Here it is, my first screening of 2018 and this is a big one. I knew next to nothing about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film other than it would be the final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who is considered by most to be the greatest living actor. With that in mind, I decided to avoid the trailer and any other information and went into it completely blind.
Synopsis: Set in 1950’s 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. (IMDB)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville
Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (USA)
Running Time: 130 minutes
For showtimes and more, check out Phantom Thread on movietimes.com.
In their first collaboration together P.T. Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis struck gold (or rather oil) in There Will Be Blood leading Lewis to one of his record three leading actor Oscars. While Phantom Thread isn’t the same type of film, they were certainly able to catch lighting in a bottle again.
This film is a marvel to look at thanks to the masterful direction of P.T. Anderson. The framing, visuals; everything is meticulously put together to convey the sort of claustrophobic and yet refined life that dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) resides in. Throughout the film, entire scenes looked as if they could have easily been placed in an old black-and-white or even silent film, letting the sharp visuals tell the story instead.
That innate storytelling is accented by a memorable, emotion-filled score that transcends most period romances in perfectly embodying the passionate struggle of this mysterious relationship. By far the best part of the film was the performances as each of the leads are able to portray their complex characters in ways that makes it easy to understand their actions throughout the film. Nothing feels forced or out of place as their behaviour is slowly explored and presented.
However, the biggest concern comes out of the story itself. While it was filled with some funny comedic moments, executed brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis, there were a few instances where some clarity would have helped in strengthening the commentary of the story. Firstly, one of the biggest questions raised in the film is why does Woodcock sew secrets into his work? It acts as a sort of explanation of the film’s title: his need to create a memory, or extension of one, within the fabric itself, but the concept is never fully explored.
But the biggest concern comes from the very minimal character development of the individual characters outside of their relationship. Woodcock’s introverted behaviour, his obsession with Cyril (Manville) (who is never mentioned as his sister throughout the film, only in the trailer), his struggles with disorganization and chaos, his preferences for particular people and disdain for others. All of these aspects of his character are glossed over rather than focused on which is odd for a meticulous director making a film about a meticulous man.
With the lack of development in Daniel Day-Lewis’ Woodcock it appeared as if the story may focus on the women in his life and how they cope with living in his enormously large shadow, but instead Cyril’s story is non-existent other than as Woodcock’s right-hand and Alma’s (Krieps) entire personality has completely vanished except for her role as romantic interest and creative muse to her new lover. Which gets us to the focus of the film: their relationship.
The film depicts the relationship between Woodcock and Alma as psychosexual in that there is a real power struggle between the two in finding a middle-ground as neither wants to compromise. The relationship blossoms at a great pace throughout the film thanks to the dynamic between these characters, but the toxicity in their relationship becomes increasingly prominent which by the conclusion makes you question why these characters continue to torture themselves in this way. While it is a thought-provoking question, seeing the abuse and selfish actions of both of these characters in their struggle to find inner self-worth and love is tragic and unfortunately doesn’t bring anything fresh in this iteration.
Overall, Phantom Thread is a twisted period romance that is beautifully woven into a captivating mystery about relationships. Its magnificent visuals, storytelling, direction and performances are beautifully accented by a solemn encapsulating score that is only hindered by its lengthy run-time and minor story issues. Regardless, this film shows P.T. Anderson’s mastery of his craft while giving Daniel Day-Lewis a memorable final performance.
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