By Jack Dignan
To give yourself fully to another person requires a lot from both parties. It’s more than just a commitment, it’s an intimate bond built on trust and admiration. For Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), this ideology seemed doomed to fail. He is, as he puts it, a confirmed bachelor, unable to settle down thanks to the fear he holds within his self, a fear of what he would become. He demands full control of his life. But despite his innate terrors and anxieties, he can’t help but fall in love, and it’s this love that might just show him who he’s always been inside through what is easily one of the most intoxicating, radiant films in years.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth feature film, Phantom Thread, is a complex and chilling foray into unhealthy relationships. Anderson is a director known for his intricacy, whether it’s a character’s personal means or the finer details within a larger narrative. Early Anderson saw a large, bombastic style, but his development over the years has seen him develop restraint and subtlety (not that there wasn’t any before). Phantom Thread sees Anderson at his most complex, executed in ways we've never seen him do before, such as Inherent Vice, which I still manage to unravel deeper meanings in after eight viewings.
With Phantom Thread, he dives deep into the tormented, controlling mindset of three separate characters, whose lives are connected through a blossoming, but complicated relationship. Woodcock is an admired dressmaker, whose outfits are worn only by the best of the best. He demands perfection in every component of his life, whether that be his career or merely the patterns of breakfast, but the groundwork of his life is dented somewhat when he falls for Alma (Vicky Krieps), who he takes on as a muse. Their relationship is… difficult, permanently overseen by Woodcock’s sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville) as all three fight for dominance within the house of Woodcock.
The script is so finely woven and unsettling, but it fits perfectly when on screen, the precise nature of Woodcock’s work reflecting all the little details found within the actual film at hand. It’s a master class of style and design. Anderson has gone up and beyond to ensure that every department is delivering nothing but sheer perfection. The costuming is particularly illuming, every dress as gorgeous as the sets they’re held within. This entire movie plays out like a renaissance painting, full of big, bold imagery that’s nuanced and detailed, playing into the bigger picture while working as their own individual showcases of beauty.
Rumours swirled that Anderson himself served as the film’s cinematographer, a rumour he has since shut down and claimed it to be the effort of a many number of individuals, but no matter who deserves credit, they’ve delivered a stunning portrait of 1950s London. Rigorous beauty strains every frame, swooping down and taking your breath right out of your mouth. It’s so precise and calculated, using the subtlest of movements to capture these actors in their absolute prime and elevating Anderson’s dark and disturbed script into an exquisite work of art. You’re not going to be able to stop thinking about this film for quite a while.
And those performances… wow. Daniel Day Lewis is, as to be expected, phenomenal, but there’s no one stand out actor present in this whole film. Without the brilliance found within the ensemble cast, this film wouldn’t be nearly as flawless. Vicky Krieps, whose character slowly develops into more of a protagonist than Woodcock is, manages to hold her own against such a powerful cast, even giving what’s arguably the greatest performance in the film, if any performance where lucky enough to be labeled the ‘greatest’. She has a fiery determination that’s fierce and frightening, able to stand up against her on-screen counterpart in the most gripping, shocking of ways.
Lesley Manville is also sensational as Woodcock’s sister, who, despite what situations occur, always believes herself to have full control, because at the end of the day, Phantom Thread is a movie about the strain we go through to find the perfect relationship, and the sickness that brings all of our love to the surface. It’s three characters fighting for dominance and struggling to reach a unifying balance, and what unfolds is provocative, haunting and unexpectedly funny. There’s so much humour scattered throughout, making what sounds like a dour experience into one of sheer beauty and untamed affection.
I cannot express enough love for this movie. It’s an unmatched display of raw power and ultimate control, where Anderson feels like an unstoppable force impossible to look away from. As you may have heard, Phantom Thread is, unfortunately, Daniel Day Lewis’ final movie. While the news is most upsetting and it’s difficult to see such a talented performer reach retirement, this certainly is a memorable way to go.
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