Film Review: 'Phantom Thread'
Fare thee well, Daniel Day-Lewis.
On June 20, 2017, the three-time Academy Award winner announced his retirement from acting while his final film, Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, was still in progress. His most recent film since 2012's Lincoln, the news was upsetting, although certainly understandable. The silver screen will miss him.
And thus, Phantom Thread gives us one final helping of a Day-Lewis to tie the ribbon on his acting legacy. In a performance that's simultaneously informed and mysterious, the masterful actor sells us on the fictional renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who dresses all of the famous royalty, celebrities, actors, and other high-class socialites of 1950's London.
As you might imagine, the costume design is complimentary and marvelous. Although there are assuredly many examples of top-tier costume design in recent years, I personally haven't had my attention magnetically drawn to the delicate intricacies of costume design since the masterpiece that was Ben-Hur. It also didn't hurt for Day-Lewis to have learned how to sew and design dresses in preparation for the role, selling us even more on the beautiful authenticity of the clothing - and, by extension, the film.
Anderson and Day-Lewis, in their second collaboration since 2007's There Will Be Blood, do not skimp on the finer details here. They never have.
It's what allows us to not only be sold on the film's elegant production design of 50's postwar London but also set us in just the right frame of mind for a romance. Woodcock, living a heavily regimented and scheduled lifestyle with the help of his protective sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) doesn't have time allocated for feelings. So cue just the right person to come along: Alma (the fantastic Vicky Krieps in her breakout role), a delicate waitress whose outer beauty obscures her headstrong fastidiousness.
There's a carousel of talented women coming through the Woodcock household, but none capture his attention the way Alma does. And their on-screen chemistry is entrancing. When the film's beautiful score swells and the two lock eyes, we know we're in for a treat. But what makes Phantom Thread unique in Day-Lewis' acting career is that he and his character have an equally talented acting force to match in Kriep's portrayal of Alma, seeking to find love and affection in this rigid man - sometimes going to great lengths to do so.
Anderson creates a unique universe for this romance to live in, opulent with production design as if they went back in time and actually shot it in 1950's London. To go back to the score, it's blissfully poetic, as beautiful and flowing as the dresses Woodcock fashions throughout the film. And when things take a turn for the darker - their romance does hit some conflicts - the tone of the film shifts to match, going from a pure drama/romance to even including some dark-ish horror elements.
Although Phantom Thread first gives the impression of being pure, unadulterated Oscar bait (especially in the opening act), it evolves into a visually lucid film that, although grounded in reality, contains a supernatural aura. Through fluid directing by Anderson, laudable costume design and a spellbinding score (it's so difficult to put one above the other when considering Call Me by Your Name), we get a deeply classical cinema experience. But it's the on-screen development of Day-Lewis' and Krieps' characters that makes Phantom Thread one to remember.
It's an entrancing story about the highs and lows of courtship between two highly skilled, yet flawed lovers. And it couldn't have been a more appropriate send-off for one of the most talented actors of all time.
Rated R. 130 minutes.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville.