What a way to retire from acting. Daniel Day-Lewis, we salute you Good Sir!
Phantom Thread makes for a welcome return to great filmmaking by Paul Thomas Anderson, whilst also being a fitting send-off for one of the finest actors of the past decade.
Highlighting another example of Anderson’s versatility, the film follows the life of a renowned designer and dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). We pick up his journey of being an icon in the fashion world, as he begins a romantic relationship with a new flame. She quickly goes from being his muse to his lover and then his full-time partner, and it’s this breadth of changes that make up the entirety of the story. But this isn’t a romantically infused love affair of a film, but rather a complex psychological erotic drama that will be like no relationship you’ve ever seen.
Why this relationship works so well is in large because of the fantastic performances by its leads. To combat a masterclass from Daniel Day-Lewis, we also are privileged with the fine acting by Vicky Krieps as his wife and Lesley Manville as his sister. Together, the trio makes up some interesting dynamics to watch, with constant power plays between each other at hand. Reynolds Woodcock is an incredibly central figure to the aspirations of his hopeful and endearing wife but also to his business-oriented sister who manages his operations. Watching how the three try to work and co-exist with each other is a great example of examining interpersonal relationships, as each person undergoes their own character arc. You can watch this film at any point and you should be able to tell exactly how they feel about the other person.
And just like the well-written screenplay, Paul Thomas Anderson once again shows why he is one of the best filmmakers in the industry. Unlike his previous basic affair, Inherent Vice, which features largely uninspired shot choices, Phantom Thread portrays a great level of attention to detail, each scene stylized with the specific tone and notions that the script is trying to present. This is exemplified by well adjusted tight shots at an on-axis eye-line to characters when moments of tension and fighting for power controls are needed. Then playing out perfectly and incredibly large sized set pieces all in one continuous take which are simply just a joy to watch. It’s variety like this that makes the visual landscape of film truly show the skill of a director. I’m happy to see Paul Thomas Anderson back at his finest.
Whilst I compliment the writing and directorial decisions employed, I still feel hesitant to give it any more than an 8.5 out 10. Yes, it is well acted, written and directed, but I nevertheless wish certain aspects of the story were paced quicker or could have simply been cut out. I attribute this to my same feelings for most of Stephen King’s books – they have enormous amounts of details to chapters and sub-plots but ultimately, some of it isn’t necessary.
I don’t know if the choice to have a narration-like technique that was used in a few of the scenes deemed it worthy enough to include. I mean, it was fine, but the rest of the story could have worked just as well without it. The film also could have worked the same if we had picked up the story from the beginning of when Reynolds meets his new muse. Everything before that seemed like one too many cherries on top of the cake, that is already delicious enough on its own.
These might seem like minor qualms, but in a film that runs for two hours, they’re noticeable to detract from the experience. I also have a minor subjective issue with the plot subject itself – dressmaking can seem slightly dull if you’re not into fashion. But again, this is a very subjective aspect that I hold and it won’t necessarily be applicable to you. Suffice to say, I wasn’t entirely bored, and in fact, there are some interesting aspects to the world of fashion that I never knew about, but it can be a touch tedious here and there is all.
At the end of the day, what you’re here to see is the complicated relationship between two people with very different desires and personalities for each other. The way they examine what they want from the other and how they accomplish this is why Phantom Thread stands out from the rest in the field of erotic drama. There’s nothing quite like it and you’ll rarely see acting performances to this scale in other films that are currently out. Daniel Day-Lewis leads the benchmark of acting and does so with a fine supporting cast by his side. So, if you’re wanting to see a piece of classical cinema with contemporary skilled professionals, seek no more.