UK Release Date: 2nd February 2018
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Brian Gleeson, Gina McKee, Camilla Rutherford
Synopsis: A socially uninterested dress maker with a perfectionist approach to his work meets a waitress in a café and is immediately taken with her, bringing her into his life as a muse.
Of all of this year’s Oscar hopefuls, it was Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Phantom Thread that kept itself under wraps for the longest. For months, the only thing people knew about the film was that it would apparently mark the final big screen appearance of three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis. Anderson’s movie is certainly an uncategorisable beast that casts an unusual, eerie spell over its audience in the same way that the characters bewitch and enchant each other, whether it’s with beauty, brilliance or both.
This is a movie that’s content to beguile and befuddle rather than explain its secrets. The audience is teased early on with the idea that fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) has a habit of sewing secrets into the fabric of the lavish dresses he makes for London high society. It feels as if this is true of the film as well, with Anderson playing the part of the taciturn, inscrutable creative force, disguising the true nature of his feelings beneath layers of silk and lace.
The film introduces Reynolds as a stoic maybe-genius with a short fuse, frustrated when those around him are noisy at breakfast or when people prefer more modern, ‘chic’ clothing to his classical designs. His beloved sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) appears to be the only person he even acknowledges as on an intellectual level with him, until he meets waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). He takes Alma into his home and she serves as his muse, in a complex relationship that may not be fulfilling for all involved.
In recent years, Paul Thomas Anderson has constructed movies that are wilfully opaque, from the slow-burn indoctrination of The Master to the screwball madness of Inherent Vice and its entirely unfollowable detective plot. Phantom Thread continues that new tradition, with a confounding and unusual narrative that seems entirely under the filmmaker’s control, but yet unsure of where exactly it is going. There’s an intriguing thread about the literal and figurative poison of the creator-muse relationship, but like many of the movie’s threads, it’s left hanging.
Fortunately, there’s a rhythm and a grammar to the filmmaking that is constantly enthralling and drags its audience, kicking and screaming, back into the story whenever interest threatens to wander. Day-Lewis is as magnetic as expected in the leading role, playing Reynolds as a man who is as sinister and abrasive as he is handsome and disarming. Vicky Krieps is impressive in support and Lesley Manville makes the most of scenes that allow her to trade verbal barbs with her Oscar-hoarding co-star in scenes that crackle with the electricity of two musical maestros singing from the same hymn sheet.
Music is, in fact, an arena in which Phantom Thread really shines. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, teaming with Anderson for the fourth time, has constructed a titanic score that, like a perfectly crafted dress, accentuates the film’s assets in all of the right places. Its exquisite orchestral feel is the ideal companion to the hoity-toity tea and scones England in which the movie is set, but is peppered with sinister touches and flourishes, enhancing the feel that something is almost certainly going to go wrong.
It’s tough to put a finger on what exactly it is that makes Phantom Thread work, or even if it ultimately does work at all. The movie is certainly an entirely unique creation and as elegantly constructed as an extravagant catwalk collection though, as with the world of high fashion, it’s sometimes a little difficult to precisely locate the point of it all.
Pop or Poop?
Paul Thomas Anderson has provided Daniel Day-Lewis with the ideal swansong for his unusual talents in Phantom Thread, which hands one of cinema’s greatest actors a suitably complex leading man role. The film is a strange and often baffling drama that meanders and weaves through a world of passion and privilege, without ever raising its pulse beyond the very deliberate rhythm Anderson creates.
It’s not a conventional film and, for that, it deserves to be praised, even if it seems as if no one is quite sure where they’re trying to go.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.