When I think of true artists, a hill comes to mind. The artist stands on top of the hill, blasting his greatness across the world, forbidding connection and sadly, love. Everyone else is busy climbing the hill in an attempt to get close to him, including his family and friends. Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis dive headfirst into the world of an artist in Anderson’s latest feature, Phantom Thread.
This is a fascinating film, and that’s not because it told me a lot about the fashion scene in 1950’s London, which the film is set in. Instead, this movie explored the cost and toll that weighed on a brilliant mind like Day Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock, a world renowned dress maker, and what happens when a feisty and strong-willed woman named Alma (the amazing Vicky Krieps), enters his life.
Woodcock’s world is meticulously built and dependent on schedule, structure, and discipline. Women often come into his life for a few weeks, start to wear on the man, and then are told to leave by his stingy sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, burning a hole in the viewer’s face). When he works on a dress, his world tightens up, and he has little need for human interaction outside his team of assistants. The man prefers olive oil over butter and doesn’t like loud butter spreading on toast at breakfast. To Reynolds Woodcock, silence is golden, but Alma puts that to the test.
Welcome to the most unconventional love story of all time, folks. Check your vulnerability at the door. Anderson’s bold take on love and obsession is aided by a stellar cast, including the man, the myth, the legend, Daniel Day Lewis. Right when you think Bill The Butcher, Daniel Plainview, or Abraham Lincoln would pull the best the actor had to offer, down the aisle comes Reynolds Woodcock.
Day Lewis can tell us as many times as he wants about this being his last film, but I’m not buying it-or maybe I don’t want to believe it. He’s magnificent as Woodcock, a man who tortures himself so much for the highest level of his craft that it bleeds onto others’ self-esteem. Every three to four years, Day Lewis comes stomping back to the land of the wannabe thespians, and shows them how it is done. He always plays dominating men, but makes them feel independent from one another with a slight change in voice, tone of the voice, walking motion, or just the way he fires profanity from his mouth. If he does quit, this is a hallmark performance to ride out of Hollywood on. Simply put, he’s the best the town has to offer.
Krieps is a relative cinematic newcomer, but she more than holds her own with Day Lewis as Alma tries to stand up to Reynolds’ demanding life. Whether it’s urging him to eat a meal she cooked or coming out dancing with her, Alma repeatedly swings a hammer at the man’s illustriously constructed facade, and let’s just say the most unlikely of tactics works in her favor. Manville cuts a cold thread as the stern lady behind Woodcock’s icy exterior. Her character’s arc with Alma is impressively told.
The film’s technical features are off the charts, starting with Dylan Tichenor’s editing, Mark Tildesly’s production design, and Mark Bridges’ exquisite costumes. Jonny Greenwood’s score hits all the right notes, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the film.
Expect the unexpected when you walk into the theater, because Anderson is one of those renegade filmmakers that cares more about his characters than his audience’s feelings. If you don’t like what the drastic measures that Alma goes to in order to connect with the love of her life, than this film may not land right. If you are open to a different form of love and admiration-one of the obsessive variety-you’ll love this film. It works in mysterious ways, but in the end, is unapologetic with its closure. Right when you think conventional cinema ways are creeping in, the film takes a hard right turn into something entirely unexpected.
There are many types of enjoyment when it comes to the movies. I walked into Thor: Ragnarok simply wanting to be entertained and charmed, but I knew what would happen and was fine with that. Taika Watiti showed me his playbook from afar, and I still liked the director’s product. With Anderson, there is no playbook handed out or promises made. There’s a reason the man does his own cinematography: this is his world, and we are only living in it.
Watching a Marvel film or Fast and The Furious movie is like eating a cheeseburger. It’s tasty and fulfilling, but predictable. Taking in Phantom Thread is like sitting down at a bar, asking the bartender for something strong, and finishing whatever is put in front of you. You are guaranteed to love it, but have no idea initially what it is.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis make relentlessly bold movies about fascinating men, and one hopes they keep going. If it takes another ten years, That’s fine by me.
Phantom Thread is a different kind of cinema blend, but it should at the top of your must-see list.