P.T. Anderson goes sufficiently mainstream without compromising on his artistic vision in this exquisite period drama about romances and obsessions.
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
2017 | USA/UK | Drama/Romance | 130 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for language
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Plot: Set in 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar – Best Costume Design. Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 30 Jan 2018
Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accessible film in ages, possibly since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love. Coincidentally, both films are romances centering on a peculiar male character who has some kind of quirk, or perhaps to some, a disorder marked by heightened states of mental and emotional agitation.
Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love is a jittery salesman obsessed with getting frequent flyer miles, whose childlike tantrums are neutered by a woman he meets. Similarly, Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock could sulk the entire day if he doesn’t start his morning right.
Constantly deep in thought, the fastidious and widely-respected dressmaker meets a waitress, Alma (relatively new face Vicky Krieps in a revelatory performance—much like how Katherine Waterston did so in Inherent Vice (2014)), who shares a love-hate relationship with him that develops into something peculiar, maybe even perverse.
Under Anderson’s vision, Phantom Thread works not just as an exquisite period drama set in 1950s London, one that was audaciously shot without a hired cinematographer, but also a tale of obsession and personal politics.
Anderson trains his camera eye on the enigmatic relationship between Reynolds and Alma, capturing the minutiae of their facial expressions and body language toward each other that reveal or signal subtle changes in mood. Day-Lewis’s performance is more nuanced than his commanding turn in There Will Be Blood (2007), but it is not necessarily a lesser display.
“You see, being in love with him makes life no great mystery.”
The tensions of a negotiated romance are startling, and so is its release through tender moments, all weaved to a piano-and-strings score by Jonny Greenwood in an overall cinematic style that harkens back to old-school Classical Hollywood from Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940)—a film that Anderson insists Phantom Thread models after—to echoes of Douglas Sirk.
There’s sufficiently a narrative to involve more mainstream viewers, though it moves comfortably at its own deliberate pace. Die-hard fans, however, should absolutely love this, adding another chapter to the esteemed director’s filmography.
Such is Anderson’s versatility that he never makes the same movie twice. But most, if not all, of his works revolve around the unearthing of different layers that make up his central characters, as they function in a society or community that sees them as outsiders.
Phantom Thread combines the formal intelligence of There Will Be Blood and The Master (2012), and the idiosyncrasies of Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice to create a unique experience.
That’s not to say it is Anderson’s crowning glory (not quite!), but that he continues to make exceptional films that are rich, textured and contained worlds—so much so that we want to believe we could exist in them.