Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is a big deal, given that it marks the retirement of one of the great actors, Daniel Day-Lewis. It follows Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a London couturier, and his relationship with a waitress, Alma, played by Vicky Krieps.
As you would expect from a PT Anderson film the craftsmanship behind Phantom Thread is sublime. Anderson’s work, not only as a director, but also technically as the film’s cinematographer given that there was no credited director of photography, is masterful. The long tracking shots through the house are superb, and Anderson is truly at the peak of his artistic powers here. And his excellent direction is bolstered by the wonderful production design, particularly in the costumes. They had to be spectacular to make it believable that this would be one of the most successful and brilliant dressmakers of the time, and Mark Bridges’ costume work is consistently elegant and beautiful. It truly makes you believe in Reynolds as a genius designer, without which Phantom Thread wouldn’t work.
And it is impossible to talk about Phantom Thread without talk about Daniel Day-Lewis’ final acting performance. His work as Reynolds may not be as showy or as big a performance as in Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood, but it is still a magnificent, more reserved performance. He brings the obsessive controlling nature of the character out, where it boils under the charming surface. Potentially even more impressive is how Vicky Krieps, a fairly unknown actress in English language cinema, more than holds her own as Alma against one of the acting greats. The film is all about the power dynamic between the two, and if she hadn’t been able to go toe to toe with him then the film wouldn’t work. Finally Lesley Manville equally shines as Reynolds’ sister Cyril, and certainly earned her Oscar nomination.
PT Anderson is a filmmaker who has dabbled in numerous genres, and with Phantom Thread might have made one of his most straightforward films to data. A drama about the power struggle between two people in a relationship. Reynolds is a domineering, obsessive figure who dislikes Alma’s attempts to change his routine. Alma often finds herself having to force Reynolds to pay attention to her, and attempts to take wrestle back some of the power in the relationship. But because the film is essentially a drama between the two it can feel very slow and drag at a little over 2 hours. Thankfully Anderson’s script is typically brilliant. The way he writes the dialogue between the three central characters is riveting, and some of the humour he manages to inject is excellently balanced with the drama.
But the highlight of Phantom Thread may just be the score. Jonny Greenwood, best known as the guitarist from Radiohead, has crafted a magnificent score. It is not the first time Greenwood has worked with Anderson, having also composed the scores to There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Inherent Vice, but Phantom Thread may just be their best collaboration, as it is truly a masterpiece. The score is every bit as elegant and beautiful as the film and the dresses Reynolds makes, but it has an eerie, uneasy, and haunting undertone to it that captures the nature of the central relationship perfectly.
Overall Phantom Thread is a superb technical achievement. PT Anderson’s direction, the production, set and costume design, and Jonny Greenwood’s score are all masterful. Because the story is such a small scale one, focusing on these three character’s relationships, it can feel as though there isn’t quite enough to fill the long run time. But when it does get into the central relationship it’s excellent, I only wish it hadn’t been quite as long, and a little faster paced at times.