Phantom Thread review Daniel Day-LewisYear: 2017
Director(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 130 mins

Synopsis: Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover. (Source)

Our existence is not unlike a finely woven tapestry, an intricate work that relies on precision, and only making sense once we see the bigger picture. What’s more, like any garment, it’s subject to wear and tear over time, capable of coming undone with the pull of a single loose thread. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is what happens when that unexpected something or someone comes along, pulling the tiniest frayed end of our sanity, sending everything into disarray. In Anderson’s latest, this element of chaos comes in the form of a tenuous but tender romance. And through Anderson’s precise lens, this relationship is one of the most complex ever filmed, fraught with extreme ups and downs, and swinging from sweet to savage with sinister subtlety. Dosed with a liberal helping of Rebecca-esque intrigue, this Hitchockian yarn is intoxicating, showcasing performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps that are emotionally draining. This is easily one of the year’s most dangerous confections.

The story takes place in 1950’s London and centers on Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a high-fashion designer who dresses loyalty and celebrity yet whose life couldn’t be further from the glamor of his work. Reynolds is undeniably celebrated for his talent, but the way his work consumes him also acts like a curse, keeping those around him, including his commanding sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), at arms length. Abiding by a strict routine and uncompromising demands towards his team and himself, Reynolds senses that his work can only keep him distracted for long enough, before his own insecurities threaten to gnaw at his accomplishments. When Reynolds meets the unassuming Alma (Vicky Krieps), he feels inspired and renewed. Their opposite personas, though unlikely, seem to fit together like lost puzzle pieces. Reynolds wastes no time turning Alma into his muse, crafting beautiful dresses for her and sweeping her off her feet. But then the pair move in together, neither yield to the limitations imposed on each other. As Reynolds and Alma struggle, the two find a surprising middle ground.

Thanks to Anderson’s finely-tuned nuance, the film never falls into the pitfalls of cliched Hollywood romance. While most films in the genre are oversimplified and sentimental, Anderson’s approach is damningly pragmatic and frank. This love story never shies away from how relationships are a culmination of human frailty, obsession and passion, examining everything in-between and threading together emotional extremes that paint love as weakness and strength. Like in real life, Anderson’s dissection is messy, existentially terrifying but also hopelessly affectionate even through daring subversion. Above all, the film feels like a tribute to the resolve of each woman in Reynolds’ life, none of whom put up with his nonsense, constantly keeping him in check and even saving him from himself. In the end, the film resonates as a portrait of love as a constant struggle, with power dynamics continually shifting while commenting on the strength of women, and how they rise above the limitations set upon them by men. Things do get a bit twisty towards the end, concluding with playfully sinister overtones and an appropriate stunner that leaves us breathless.

Phantom Thread review Vicky Krieps Daniel Day-Lewis stillWhat makes the film so focused, is Anderson’s triptych of characters, each of whom are brought to life in incredible ways. At the center of it all, Day-Lewis’ Reynolds is meticulous and merciless. He’s a man with distinct tastes who can’t and won’t compromise anything. Day-Lewis is perfection in the role, staunchly committing to his goals at the expense of his sanity. As his much-publicized final(?) role, this is a breathtaking swan song for Day-Lewis, delivering a knockout of a character that chills and enchants. Standing her ground, is Krieps’ Alma. Krieps is a perfect contrast to Day-Lewis, balancing out his operatic persona with something a bit harder to pin down. The best part about Krieps and Alma, is that they’re constantly shifting, transforming throughout in ways that I don’t dare reveal. As smitten as Alma is with Reynolds, she also understands her worth, careful to never lose who she is despite giving herself over to Reynolds’ demands. Acting as the chaotic neutral, Lesley Manville commands the screen as Reynolds’ no-nonsense Cyril. Just like Alma, Cyril is more infinitely complex than we initially think, tending to Reynolds’ routine and pretty much keeping his world in order. Manville wields power in a way that’s tremendously understated, resulting in a presence that looms over every frame she isn’t in.

In the absolute best way, Phantom Thread is a film that’s impossible to get away from. We’re enthralled and seduced by its vision of obsession, and its haze continues long after the credits roll. Like a fragrance that we can’t forget, Anderson’s sophistication only holds more weight the longer we think about it. This is master-filmmaking by every stretch, offering a bittersweet goodbye to Day-Lewis and Anderson’s singular collaboration while offering a portrait of humanity that’s full of wit, damning implications and unwitting hope.