Phantom Thread Review

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It's all in the detail

by Casimir Harlow Feb 2, 2018 at 8:23 PM

  • Movies review


    Phantom Thread Review

    Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's eighth film makes for a fitting end to master method actor Daniel Day-Lewis's illustrious career; an unsurprisingly mesmerizing study of love and obsession.

    Retiring at 60, after almost four decades in the business, it'll be sad to see Day-Lewis go, but at least he's going out on a high. After earning an Academy Award for one of his first major leading roles - My Left Foot - he's only made 11 films in the subsequent three decades, taking his time with each production and committing himself utterly to almost each and every role. As a result, out of 12 films, he's earned nominations for most of them, and somehow - insanely - become the only actor to win three Best Actor Awards. Paul Thomas Anderson's career has similarly involved well-considered productions - eight films in a little over 20 years, all of which he has both written and directed, half of which he's earned Best Screenplay nominations for, and two of which have been up for both Best Picture and Best Director (he also helped Day-Lewis with his second Oscar win for There Will Be Blood).
    As a result of all of this, Phantom Thread carries with it some high expectations and thankfully, despite some less than impressive trailers which woefully underplayed the impact of the film, it more than delivers. Whilst it is a very different animal to that earlier, magnificent, Anderson/Day-Lewis collaboration There Will Be Blood, it still has some of the same genetic coding, trading in similar themes of almost psychotic obsession and atypical emotional bonding and emotional damage, channeled through a similarly powerful and controlling role for Day-Lewis, all played out in the already supremely narcissistic world of fashion design in post-war 1950s London, but styled with the sensibilities of a ghostly gothic mystery love story. Likely unlike anything you've ever seen before, it still comfortably sits in the oeuvre of both its master actor and its master filmmaker, and is a high point for both.

    Phantom Thread
    Day-Lewis' celebrated fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock is the best at what he does, renowned in high society as much for his intricate and elegant designs, as for his controlling and obsessive temperament, influenced only by his sister, who plays manager, and by the memories of his dead mother which haunt him. A chance encounter at a restaurant sees Reynolds finding a muse in waitress, Alma, however she has more determination than expected, refusing to play second fiddle to Reynolds true and arguably only love - the threads.

    At once feeling like a distant cousin of his powerfully controlling oil baron in There Will Be Blood, and also a variation on Leonardo DiCaprio's obsessive Howard Hughes in Scorsese's underrated The Aviator, it's films like his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson that make you wonder what Day-Lewis would have been like playing Hughes himself - particularly as his older, increasingly eccentric self. It seems like a match made in heaven, and one we'll unfortunately never see. As Reynolds, Day-Lewis brings forth his usual utter commitment, maybe somewhat familiar now in style but still tailor-made for the distinctive role, with his controlling master designer teeming with neurotic energy. Opposite him we get two surprisingly strong female characters brought to life by Lesley Manville as the sister and Vicky Krieps as the muse, who both, in their own way, prove something of a match for Reynolds despite his controlling ways.

    A fitting end to Daniel Day-Lewis's amazing career

    Paul Thomas Anderson weaves magic in the silence, holding back on the dialogue and telling his story in actions, gestures and the slightest tilt of the head - or, sometimes, a complete lack of acknowledgement. It's masterful although obviously, to many, it will be painfully slow. Those familiar with his work won't find that surprising, and will settle down for the majestic ride, playing with sound and visuals, silence and sudden fury keenly juxtaposed against it, telling a seemingly simple love story except that nothing is simple in the world of this director or this artist.

    Anderson's study, in many respects, is as much about being an artist as it is about the pain of being in love with an artist, and whether or not the auteur wrote the role specifically with Day-Lewis in mind, it certainly feels perfect for the man - a man who absorbs himself so much with his art that it could be argued that the role only reflects such consummate commitment and tantamount obsession with your work. It's more than that, though, with Anderson happy to trade in gothic love story vibes as he plays up the themes surrounding the dead mother and dangerous tactics towards conquering love which would seem out of place in a conventional romance.

    It's strong and powerful work, speaking volumes with its silence, deafening in its bursts of passion and intricate in its observation of art, artists, and unconventional love. Intense and sometimes even painful to endure with its fraught confrontations and blistering tension making for unexpectedly intoxicating viewing, Phantom Thread is a fitting and suitably masterful end to an amazing career from Day-Lewis. If, indeed, this is actually the end.

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