Phantom Thread - 2018
Director(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Cinematography by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Editor(s): Dylan Tichenor
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesly Manville and Vicky Krieps
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).
Paul Thomas Anderson has always been a director that challenges me as an audience member. All of his movies, for me, require multiple viewings so I can fully appreciate all he is doing within each frame. It’s not that I don’t walk away from the first viewing not liking it or not understanding it, I just know that woven in the seams of the scenes there is something more to be gained. The Master and There Will be Blood are perfect examples of movies from him that after each viewing I gain a new stich or appreciation and understanding. Knowing this about my relationship with PTA’s work I decided to watch Phantom Thread twice before sitting down and fully expressing my thought on this movie.
Quick note: I’m not saying you won’t enjoy this movie if you only watch it once. I did, I just felt the need to re-watch it to give you a better or more well-informed review.
The reason I pasted the IMDB synopsis was for one reason and one reason only: the use of the word fastidious. This word perfectly encapsulates the story and the entire making of this movie. Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is a person of habit. Everything must be done a certain way, at a certain time and at a certain location. If something is done that doesn’t fit that routine his day and his work (in his mind) is ruined. Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, is a loud and always speaks her mind, constantly challenging his rules and questioning his moods. It makes for a great character story of two complex, fleshed-out characters falling in love through a toxic (or poisonous) relationship.
The movie-making aspect also reflects the word fastidious. This is one of, if not, the hardest movie PTA has ever done. If you venture up at the credits, you will see that he was the director, cinematographer and writer of this movie. He was also one of the producers. It’s very rare to see this amount of control over a project from a singular voice. This is everything PTA wanted to do and say. The end-result, considering the amount of responsibility he shouldered, is awe inspiring. It feels effortless, every single shot, line and movement felt as if it just happened to be caught on camera for us to see. His hand is invisible throughout the movie, never calling attention to himself or the camera. But, just like Woodcock, everything fits perfectly succinct to the rhythm and the theme of the story.
PTA gave us a lot of visually compelling shots throughout the movie. One of my favorites comes during Woodcock and Alma’s first encounter. He just got to the country side looking for an escape from his workload and the relationship that has turned sour. He sits down in a restaurant and as soon as he sees her a ray of sunshine piers down on his face almost illuminating his gloomy attitude, giving him another prospect of love. My second favorite visual queue comes towards the middle of the movie, when Woodcock asks an important question to Alma. PTA blocks this shot in a way that Alma is on the right of the screen and the dress he has been working on in on the left. As Alma ponders on the response to the question, we see the camera slowly pan in to them and the dress slowly go out of frame. She doesn’t answer until the dress is fully out of the picture and she is the only thing Woodcock can see.
Quick note: this is a huge notch on Mark Bridges’ belt. His work with the design of the costumes was beautiful and stylish.
One of the aspects that elevates this movie far past many of the ones I have seen recently, is the score by Jonny Greenwood. I loved how the score both guides the audience through the movie and tricks you at the beginning into a sense of wonder. The opening sequence of this movie has a score that can be described as joyful, classical and upbeat as you see the house, the workers and his morning routine unfold. For that opening sequence you are lulled into believing you are going to see a fun story about a dressmaker. That’s until his sister Cyril, played by Lesly Manville, asks him does he want her to get rid of his current girlfriend. The score stops abruptly, letting you know the reality of the story and the dynamic of the characters we are going to follow.
The score changes once again once we meet Alma. Their courtship is scored with a fast-paced tone, at times erratic and at times loud, reflecting the feelings of a couple falling in love and not knowing where it’s going. I feel the score also reflects Alma’s loud and strong wild nature. Finally, the score changes once again when we reach the third act. It’s more somber, heavy and at a lower pitch. It’s almost as if the musician is working out the troubles in his mind through the music. They add a sense of dread and worry to the later scenes, especially during the making of an omelet. The score guides you through the story to a point that you can close your eyes and listen to the score and know at what point of the story you are in. The score is just magical and I have it forever stuck in my head.
Quick note: the sound design is also fantastic and at times hilarious. Alma makes a lot of noise, she is loud and at times clumsy. Woodcock hears every single movement and is annoyed by them. We hear them as he does and I haven’t laughed at toast being LOUDLY buttered before, but there is a first time for everything.
This is supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’ last performance. I say supposedly partly because I don’t want it to be true and partly because he is young enough that time will set in and the itch to act will creep back into his system. But, if it’s truly his last performance, he went out with a bang. He completely inhabited his character, from the way he walked, ate and drank it all felt calculated and measured. As if he had been doing it for years and he knew exactly the way he liked the actions to be done. His vocal tone was monotone and controlled, almost as if he is bored or uninterested in most of the conversations he is taking part of. There are a couple of scenes where he loses control. It’s cliché to say, but I have to say it: I stopped viewing him as Day-Lewis and completely bough him as Woodcock.
Quick note: Lesly Manville, Cyril, and Vicky Krieps, Alma, are also wonderful complements to Day-Lewis. Both well wonderful in their roles.
Phantom Thread is a slow burn that leads to what many could see as an unearned ending. Given his relationship with his mother and his controlling nature, I saw it as a character trait woven in to his canvas waiting for the right person to unearth it. I love the score and the cinematography. The story is simple and unique, with the characters being the stand outs. It’s sad, funny and unsettling, but for me it added up to an incredibly enjoyable piece of art. PTA and Day-Lewis challenge and somehow always bring out the best in each other. Daniel Day-Lewis is why I love movies.
Phantom Thread is currently playing in theaters. Go watch it.
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