Phantom Thread - Review

Watching Phantom Thread is like biting into an especially sour apple; first, shock at the taste, then, an overwhelming feeling of pleasure, followed by another bite. This is Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis's latest picture together, and it's a damn good one. Day-Lewis and Anderson create a world so vivid with life it is bursting at the seams. Expect more sewing puns. 


Phantom Thread, one of the best named pictures I've seen in my life, accomplishes something unique for Anderson; a mild legend for having directed and written some of the greatest movies of our time (There Will be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights). It is Anderson's most unassuming picture. To say that Phantom Thread has an agenda or symbolic meaning would be a gross misinterpretation, unusual for an Anderson film. Nearly all his pictures have involved some sort of political or social theme, most notably industry vs. religion in 2007's There Will Be Blood (Anderson's first film with Day-Lewis). Phantom Thread takes a different, more simplistic route, and settles for being an amazing film.  


From the first scene of the picture, it is apparent that this is something special. Anderson, who also served as Cinematographer, carefully and vividly captures the daily routines of Reynolds Woodcock, Daniel Day-Lewis's fashion designer eccentric. The attention Anderson gives to the names of his characters should be appreciated, in a trend that began with Day-Lewis's character in There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview, extending to this film. As people repeat his name, we are reminded the grandiosity, the larger-than-life essence of his character, that would warrant such an excessive name. 

Anderson shoots the film in tight corners, restaurant booths, and bedrooms. For someone who has captured massive landscapes in physical and mental scenarios, this is a decidedly intimate picture, the majority of which takes place in Reynolds's home, frequently referred to as the House of Woodcock. Reynolds is a man of strict taste, fitting for his occupation as a dress designer. While a good part of the film focuses on his lover, Alma, played by the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps, this is ultimately a story of a man who refuses to change. Even staring into the face of the woman he loves, he cannot change his opinion on what he finds deplorable, and must therefore resign himself to misery rather than remove the object of his discomfort. Much of this is new territory for Anderson, who writes lines with the same attention to detail in which Reynolds lives. This symbiotic relationship, in which lines serve as inspiration for character and vice versa, is made possible through the lovely acting of Day-Lewis, with supporting characters ranging from good to agreeable in terms of quality.

It would make sense that Day-Lewis receives the most attention --even though screen time is fairly split between he and Krieps-- as this is not his first film with Anderson. Day-Lewis plays Reynolds as a man who lives in his routines, and is therefore horrified and disgusted at any new addition to it he does not plan. Despite this, he still desires love, and therefore has a difficult choice to make; a choice that drives the picture into its best moments. By the end of the film, I was left wondering if he had changed, or if Alma had simply become an addition to his routine. 

The plot is delivered straightforward, with a great pace and eye for imagery. Costumes are excellent throughout, as one would expect from a film of this sort, and the music is too good not to discuss. Radiohead guitarist and virtuoso composer Jonny Greenwood once again steps up to the plate as musical director for an Anderson picture, this being their fifth collaboration. The score swells and dips as the characters do, and offers similar moments of massive intensity and volume as in There Will Be Blood. Greenwood creates a feeling of unease and romance in the same sound, with the title track being the best example (the soundtrack is out, and well worth a listen). 

What makes Phantom Thread even more interesting is the story it tells. The drama between the two stars is more than enough to carry a film like this, but Anderson goes the extra mile by throwing in a Hitchcockian twist, albeit far more mild than those in Hitchcock's own films. Woodcock doesn't turn out to be murdering people or anything. Yet, it is this story element that sets Phantom Thread apart from films like it. This is one of the first great films of the year, and a bittersweet yet all-too appropriate final note for Day-Lewis, if he is seriously sticking to his claims. We'll miss you Mr. Woodcock, thank you for this expertly designed gift of a film.