There aren’t a lot of one-two punches left in Hollywood when it comes to elite director-actor duos. When I first got whiff of Phantom Thread being led by director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis, I had almost zero clue what to expect other than a solid film. But not knowing hardly anything about this film and its story is what provided such a wonderful experience. I’m placed in 1950’s London and by the film’s end, I almost didn’t want to leave.
After There Will Be Blood, there’s an air of excellence that surrounds any film with Anderson and Day-Lewis at the helm. Here, Anderson plays to Day-Lewis’ brilliant acting by placing him in the role of Reynolds Woodcock, a dressmaker that is renowned by many. Anyone from royalty to local women come to Woodcock to get fitted for the best dresses of their lives. The film opens at a slow-ish pace, but does a good job at introducing Reynolds and his routine-oriented lifestyle (he likes eggs, and scones, and quiet time at breakfast).
There comes a moment where his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), recommends he take a bit of a break. So Reynolds listens, drives to another town and has a hearty breakfast the following day. However, a stunning waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), catches his eye. Does he feel love at first sight? Does he look at her as simply another model for his dresses? Nonetheless, he gets her phone number, they go on a date and eventually Alma’s brought back to the Reynolds estate.
What the film does here on out is subvert all of my expectations and succeeds in doing so. When I feel the story is trending towards a typical romance, it pivots and throws a wrench into the formula. When I think I understand how Reynolds and Alma will end up, it’s much more surprising than I ever envisioned. That’s the charm of this story: for however weird it may be, it gave me a reason to embrace the unexpected moments and all their oddities.
While Day-Lewis gave a nearly flawless performance, I think it’s the most reserved role I’ve seen him in. Heck, even Anderson’s direction is quite reserved. These aren’t negatives, however, and it actually opens the floor for Krieps and Manville. Both are absolutely wonderful, with Krieps able to seamlessly switch between complex emotions: happy, head-over-heels in love, and then frustrated and ready to walk out on Reynolds. It really is a grand display of acting, but Manville stole the show. It doesn’t take long to realize who wears the pants in the household. As Reynolds’ sister and partner-in-twine, she keeps her brother in check and even takes charge during an important project. Boy, what a masterful performance. Her sly remarks, touch of realism and comedic timing often made for a good change of pace. She stole the show, and Phantom Thread is better for it.
If there’s one thing incredibly noticeable on this film’s surface, it is its score. Jonny Greenwood returns alongside Anderson to score what may be my favorite composition in quite some time. Yeah, we have John Williams and Hans Zimmer, but Hollywood’s most under-appreciated composer has to be Greenwood. The way each piano key flows gracefully between shot sequences and how the small orchestra of instruments weaves within each scene often made me pause and reflect on the music. If the film wasn’t so beautiful, I might have closed my eyes and allowed the music to fully consume me. In Phantom Thread, the score can almost serve as a secondary character, as well. It undoubtedly makes itself heard and even drowns out some of the natural sound on-screen. I love it all.
To write about this film is tough without giving anything away, but know this: Anderson paints a wonderfully unique tale of romance and how a man who seems to have it all may not have anything at all. Day-Lewis clicks with his counterpart, Krieps, and never ceases to display his brilliance. The environment, cinematography, costume design by Mark Bridges (the best I’ve seen in years) and pacing makes Phantom Thread a contender in any year, not just 2017.
I was treated to an advanced screening for purposes of this review thanks to Focus Features and Allied Integrated Marketing.
Phantom Thread is rated-R, runs 2 hours and 10 minutes and hits theaters on Jan. 19, 2018.