Love can be quite intoxicating. So can Paul Thomas Anderson movies.
Anderson’s natural cinephile sensibilities have allowed him to make some of the very best films of all time. Seemingly drawing straight from the well of pure cinema, his films are dazzling masterpieces that seep deeply into the audiences’ subconscious and only get better the more they are thought about.
Set in the high fashion world of post-war London, Phantom Thread is the story of an obsessive dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the woman he meets who tames him, until a rocky disruption ensues that forces each to see how essential they are to the other. An absolutely gorgeous work and a rich feast for the eyes, this period piece is one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
One thing that separates Phantom Thread from Anderson’s other films is that it’s Anderson himself who’s behind the camera for this movie, here he assumes director of photography duties as well as directing. When you’re able to operate the camera, pick the lenses and make your own lighting decisions, you are exacting full control to execute your vision, as he does here.
Reginald Woodcock (Day-Lewis) knows a thing or two about the necessity of control when it comes to creating his works of art. And with that, comes his need for perfection, irritable if otherwise. Mercilessly meticulous in realizing his vision, it’s his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) who takes to tempering his frustrations while she helps him run the business. Woodcock may, in fact, be the character that most closely mirrors Anderson himself, the commentary on his own artistic sensibilities (and shortcomings) as a perfectionist auteur. He shows that creating such beautiful pieces often comes from a joyless place.
If we are to believe [Daniel Day-Lewis’] statement that this is indeed his final screen performance, then it is a fantastic one to leave behind.
This makes the introduction of Alma (Vicky Krieps) one that inspires Woodcock. He has had other muses before – one is seen before the arrival of Alma – but it’s Alma that we find is his match, and whose presence in his life of consuming routine and ritual slowly frays at the seams. Woodcock tries to live his life of narcissistic vanity in his undisturbed artistry, but Alma disrupts this vision before the movie reveals its screwball story that forces Reginald and Alma to realize how much they need each other.
His most reduced story yet, Phantom Thread is carried by the beguiling performances of the two lovers. The performance that Day-Lewis exacts as Woodcock in control and restraint is as exacted as any craftsman. If we are to believe his statement that this is indeed his final screen performance, then it is a fantastic one to leave behind. Vicky Krieps as Alma is a presence that can suck the air right out of a room, her face communicating exactly what she’s thinking.
The allure of a PTA film is that there is always more then meets the eye. Interestingly, this is a detail that is manifested in the film- Woodcock sews names and words into the linings of his pieces, blesses them or just a creates a sneaky secret that no one will ever know. These codes can leave any critic endlessly intrigued.
Phantom Thread turns out to be a phantom of a film itself, leaving a mysterious and lasting impression that will continue to occupy the mind long after its watch. Creeping darkness and growing tension make this love story one that will sit quite well next to its peers.
Phantom Thread is 130 minutes. Rated R for language. Now playing at the Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood.