Phantom Thread is writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, and could also be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance on the big screen. The story is set in 1950’s London, and Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alman (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and lover. This plot seems somewhat arbitrary, sure, but that is Anderson’s intent. What makes the makes Phantom Thread a must-see are the ways in which PTA breathes life into this story through visual acuity and narrative brilliance.
The texture of the film carries all the qualities of the great cinema of the fifties and sixties. The graininess, the lighting, and the dirt all have a place even in this world of high fashion. Anderson serves as cinematographer as well and this is his intent according to longtime gaffer Michael Bauman. They underexposed the film and then pushed it up in the development process so the stock became more sensitive and increased the grain and texture of the image.
Woodcock loves to drive his car throughout the film, and the clunkiness of the camera combined with the speed of the filming put to shame how over-the-top car movement is filmed today. The clouds while driving add an eerie calm. And continuing the theme of eerie calm, Jonny Greenwood’s score truly makes Anderson’s visual idiosyncrasies sing. The tension, the passion, and the twists of emotion throughout the film are because of Greenwood. He adds the punch to the punchline.
Phantom Thread is a three-person play with Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Lesley Manville as Woodcock’s assistant, Cyril. The actors take Anderson’s script and inject their own strong choices. Day-Lewis is captivating, perfectly over-the-top, and brilliant as the lead. His body language can build tension better than most actors with all their tools. Krieps and Manville in separate ways stand toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis in the most passionate scenes. Manville brings a sharp tongue and Krieps has a bold resistance to the status quo. Each actor has a solid performance which complements the cinematography and score to a bizarre climax.
At two hours and ten minutes, even the most exceptional performance starts to drag if the story struggles for closure. Phantom Thread could have been tremendous had Anderson adhered more to his brisk Punch Drunk Love runtime; not that this picture goes for days, it simply would have been perfect had it shed 20-30 minutes. The climax loses steam.
In Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson puts together a weird tale in a way only he can. He puts together a beautiful “finale” for Day-Lewis, which makes it understandable why Anderson wanted to stay in this world and keep on shooting.