Synopsis – Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
My Take – Despite its limited marketing, this film has been in news since its inception, that too not just because the film marks the reunion of Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson, star and director of There Will Be Blood (2007), but mainly as it marks Day-Lewis‘s retirement from his unimpeachable career, as one of the few actors in cinema history to be a consummate box office draw by being a strong performer rather than just a movie star, and his triple Oscar wins are testament to that. And who better to give him yet another grueling and winsome character who strives for artistic perfection, director Paul Thomas Anderson, a kindred obsessive perfectionist whose craft is so refined it verges on the sublime. Personally, I have a lot of admiration for director Paul Thomas Anderson (except for 2014’s Inherent Vice) as he has always been extremely careful and creative with the material that he is given and after finally seeing it tonight, I can confirm that it does not disappoint, as this is easily director Anderson‘s best film since There Will Be Blood. From the first scene to its final, the film captivates you on with its splendidness and leaves you in awe, which is surprising considering it’s a film about a dressmaker.
The story follows Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a 1950’s London dressmaker who is often hailed as one of the greatest. He lives and works in a home that serves as the canvas for his art, as well as a place to lay his head for sleep, all done with a fiercely stringent routine and slavish devotion to his craft over any personal relationships, except for his devoted sister and buttoned-up business partner Cyril (Leslie Manville) who while running the shop also uses her near preternatural ability to read his moods and idiosyncrasies and respond accordingly. After a particularly stressful day, Reynolds heads for the country for some quiet time and to treat himself with a heavy breakfast at a diner, where he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a plain-looking, quite ordinary waitress and immediately takes an interest in her. Alma being a lonely yet polite and self-conscious woman surprised by the sudden attention, allows herself to become vulnerable in the confident-if-demanding arms of Reynolds as his muse, model, and lover, resulting in Reynolds, a man with transformative talent, who, despite his stated lack of need for those outside his solitary realm, being dragged into the humanity of love and caring. Their strong will, intense romance, breathless moments of pure expression all set in the fashion era of 1950 is very much mind blowing. Fans of refined cinema should rejoice as this is a carefully constructed and mesmerizing masterpiece and it is both unlike anything we’ve seen before from director Paul Thomas Anderson and everything you could hope for from such a talent, if this is Daniel Day Lewis‘ last film, then he leaves on a very high note. Anderson‘s distinctive directing style is written all over the film, meaning visual boldness, the memorable way in how he uses music, how he handles thematic consistency and having characters that are flawed but realistically so while not being necessarily likeable. Director Paul Thomas Anderson manages to expresses an artist’s creative journey through threads of fashion and romance with such subtlety that it could only be conveyed through the medium of film. In terms of the story, the film is anchored by this relationship dynamic. It may not be a novel theme, with other films having done it (a recent example being ‘Mother!’), but here director Paul Thomas Anderson handles this far better than most of them, what it says about it is illuminating, fresh and surprisingly subtle. On the surface it just feels like a love story set during the 1950s fashion industry, but as the film progresses, you see little hints at something more sinister. Woodcock and his associates feel almost artificial, they try and hide their true selves behind this art and demeanor, quiet, soft-spoken, and routine, but then Alma is introduced. She’s more outgoing, cut from a different cloth if you will, and while Woodcock loves her, he doesn’t quite know why and struggles with how different she is from the routine he’s done for who knows how long. With a tone reminiscent of a classical romantic drama with Gothic and even some Shakespearean undertones, the tightly but grippingly paced drama that unfolds is both entertaining and enthralling for its audience.
Every moment of the film serves to advance the story. It’s a slow burn, but you are always moving forward, and that is the important thing. The pace is consistently moving and therefore even though there are no time jumps or action scenes, it never gets boring. While director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films are not always known for their senses of humor, this one is surprisingly very funny at times. The film’s use of irony is also immensely clever, as dramatic and situational irony are both used in clever and impactful manners–both when the audience most and least expects them to arrive and occur. There is also some damn stylish camera work here to boot, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious. When director Paul Thomas Anderson does a single shot of Reynolds leaving his comfort zone while trying to find Alma (a woman who he still doesn’t know how he truly feels about) at a crowded ball, you feel every level of his conflict, as everything from the beautiful imagery, to the spectacular camera work, to the authentic period representation, to the deliberate pacing and certainly to the career defining-performance of one lead, and the career-making performance of another, combine to make a delightful theater-going experience. The film also successfully showed the fashion types and patterns of London in 1950. It has all the classical designs of high society and it is very much amusing to see those in 2017. And finally, the score, arguably the strongest part of the film, the score possesses director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s signature strange aura that is found in several of his other films. It’s not a coincidence that one of his most frequent collaborators is Jonny Greenwood, who composed the score for this film, There Will Be Blood, and many others. While most films nowadays would use music to heighten drama, director Paul Thomas Anderson rejects the common norm; valuing music to form an atmosphere. This atmosphere is crucial in almost all of his works, creating an eerie tone for a mystery that drives the story forward. Is this film for everyone? Not really as I’m sure there are plenty of people that’ll find this boring, mainly in the middle half when nothing much important happens, and while I can understand that, this is more of a thinking man’s film. A film that doesn’t hold your hand and tell you what’s going on, and that’s going to feel like a disconnection for a lot of people. Initially the only negative thing I could talk about the film was its run time of 130 minutes, mainly as I felt the film could have ended on an impactful note many times, however, with the twist in the final act and the dark ending, it more than makes up for it. The acting is also exceptional, especially from Daniel Day Lewis who carries the film. As this is Daniel Day Lewis‘s last role, he gives one of the best of his career. In perhaps his most personal role with a little of himself in Reynolds and Day-Lewis gives the performance of his life portraying a man with vulnerable sensitivity and erratic quirks is simply mesmerizing. Day-Lewis‘s intensity often dominates and overshadows the films he is in, but here Vicky Krieps gives a marvelous and captivating performance as the woman he meets and whom he takes into his demanding world of fashion design. Here, she was given a difficult role to perform: she needed to have moments of vulnerability, confidence, sadness and glee. She needed to have both moments of submissiveness and vindictiveness and she had to make every second of her growth believable while acting alongside one of the most esteemed actors of all time and she nailed it. Lesley Manville is also superb as Woodcock’s demanding but humane and knowing sister. On the whole, ‘Phantom Thread’ is an intimate, seductive and a beautifully crafted masterpiece that works as a perfect farewell to one of the greatest actors of all time, Daniel Day Lewis.
Directed – Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated – R
Run Time – 130 minutes