Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson best film second to There will be blood. But it is certainly not a crowd pleaser…
Daniel Day Lewis (in what is apparently his ‘last role’) is Reynolds Woodcock a 1950’s dressmaker based in London who’s life, usually set with clockwork precision, is soon to be turned upside down by new muse and lover Alma.
Phantom Thread is an handiwork, an immersive experience, about obsessive behavior, patiently sewed by Anderson and Lewis. It is an artifact (old) fashioned with a tailor made precision mirroring both actor and director own notorious compulsive schemes of creativity. Within confine venues, with restrain action and few (but significant) words, it depicts rituals and fixation, near fetishism, suddenly challenged with dramatic results. A power shifting about the sovereignty is taking place in the household.
If you love Daniel Day Lewis you are in for a treat with all the repressed mannerism he puts into the character. You can hate him for the same reasons, of course. As Alma, Vicky Krieps (Hanna, The Colony) provides sturdy ground to the needed rivalry. But the most fascinating character and interpretation in Phantom Thread comes from Lesley Manville, of the ‘Mike Leigh’s school of acting’, as Cyril, Woodcock loyal, devoted sister, assistant and conscience. Manville displays reassuring, dignified and rigid presence. She is gold.
Naturally, for a PTA movie, the art direction and attention to detail is a strong point. Johnny Greenwood’s score as its merits and it is cited (along with DD Lewis performance) for a possible Oscar nod. But it is interesting to note last year’s academy ruling to exclude from the race Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score to Arrival on the basis that voters could confuse his music with existing material used by the producers on the soundtrack (just one year after Ennio Morricone’s overdue celebration for seven minutes of original music in Hateful Eight). In Phantom, Oscar Peterson’s rendition of Victor Young’s theme to Mark Robson’s My Foolish Heart (1949) opens the credits, followed by several classical monuments for two hours…
With its slowly build old fashioned aura (and an ending not fully convincing), Phantom Thread is not easily appealing and could even be seen as pretentious or irritating. But Paul Thomas Anderson simply refuses to go into an assigned corner and he can be pretentious because he succeeds in his own corner.