Phantom Thread movie review: Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film is an unforgettable masterpiece
Director - Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast - Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Rating - 4.5/5
For Daniel Day-Lewis to retire now, with three Best Actor Oscars on his shelf that could possibly be joined by a fourth very soon, is like Marco Pierre White hanging up his apron after earning three Michelin stars, or Michael Jordan hanging up his boots with a record number of NBA titles under his belt. It’s an important occasion, and the legendary actor could not have found a stranger film with which to call it a day.
Phantom Thread is an oddity. It’s a movie about love and obsession and obsessive love. It’s Freudian and sadomasochistic, and for one glorious moment, almost passes off as director Paul Thomas Anderson’s answer to Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s difficult to say exactly what sort of movie it is. It will perhaps take several viewings before anyone could make a confident decision. But after two hours of thinking ‘What is this?’ — mind you, Phantom Thread is 132 minutes long — I knew what I was watching: A romantic comedy.
But it shouldn’t have taken that long to figure it out. The central character’s name should’ve given it away. He’s called Reynolds Woodcock.
Woodcock is, as we are told in the very first shot of the film, a most demanding man. He’s a dressmaker in post-war London, who lives in a large house with his sister, an equally mysterious character who seems to be the only living person who has any sort of control over him — note, living.
Woodcock, you see, is a man who lives at the mercy of his rituals. He’s very particular that way. He wanders in and out of the hallways of his home, hunched over, and immaculately dressed, of course. He barely pauses to acknowledge the army of women that surrounds him at all times — his sister, his tailors, his fans and the ladies whose bodies he understands more intimately than their own husbands, after having measured every inch of them, in scenes shot with the fetishistic lusciousness of one of those Nigella Lawson videos.
And then, one day, he finds another. At a trip to a seaside small town, he meets Alma, a waitress at a restaurant. He brings her home and makes her his muse, his confidante, his new project. There’s a sense that there have been others like Alma before; other young women taken by Reynolds Woodcock’s charm, his blazing talent and reputation, and his aura. Each of those women has tried to tame him, to break through his impenetrable shell, but has failed.
And that is when things begin to get kooky.
I laughed more often during Phantom Thread than I had during the entire, unbearably long duration of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous movie — an actual stoner comedy — Inherent Vice. To me, a lifelong fan of the director’s, Inherent Vice was nearly as unwatchable as the book on which it was based was unreadable. But even I could not deny the sheer ambition that PTA brings to his movies, even his minor ones, like Phantom Thread.
Curiously, for a film that does not have a credited cinematographer — PTA reportedly shot it himself, with the help of a few crewmembers — it looks exquisite. Understandably, like us and like PTA, it is obsessed with its star. There are several, almost painterly close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis’ unique face. They linger over his crooked nose, his graying hair, his twinkling eyes, as he speaks in that soft Daniel Day-Lewis voice — the only voice in the world that can be both icy and welcoming at the same time. And that is perhaps the best way to describe Reynolds Woodcock, the final character he will ever play on film.
It might not be as flashy a performance as Gary Oldman’s in Darkest Hour, or even as flamboyant as some of the other roles Day-Lewis has done, but if he somehow pulls off an upset and wins that fourth Best Actor Academy Award, it will be well deserved.
Phantom Thread is aided by a remarkable score by Jonny Greenwood — the sort of wall-to-wall score that could very easily become distracting, but here, behaves more like a veteran butler, never attracting too much attention, but always there, ready to help — and intricate sound design — the deafening sound of butter being scraped onto toast, of the rustle of fine fabric against a large woman’s body, and of needles piercing cloth with the viciousness of a knife-stabbing.
It’s a movie about asparagus, cream, some sausages, eggs (not too runny), scones, butter (never too much), jam (not strawberry) and Chekov’s poisoned mushrooms. Absolutely delightful.
Watch the Phantom Thread trailer here:
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