REVIEW: Phantom Thread (2017)

Written By: Nigel Asipa
@AsipaNigel
There Will Be Blood stands amongst the most absorbing movies of the 2000’s, featuring one of my favourite movie characters in Daniel Plainview. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master and Punch Drunk Drunk Love are all starkly different in atmosphere but remain connected in their exploration of human connection, accountability and past misdeeds. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most versatile and expressive artists of the modern era, and like Kubrick, he can’t be pigeonholed which is why he’s one of my favourites.
Daniel Day-Lewis for my money is one of the greatest actors the world has ever seen. His Oscar-winning work in the likes of There Will Be Blood and  My Left Foot rank amongst the best I’ve ever seen, he’s in a class of his own. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone immerse themselves in the lives of their characters and embody the character’s sense of reality quite like him. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that these two would collaborate once more in a tale of lust and anxiety.
Thematically and stylistically, Phantom Thread is fashioned as a sly period piece, and it doesn’t call too much attention to that aspect. At times it seemed quite modern in atmosphere though much of Anderson’s filmography isn’t contemporary in setting. With Thread, the sophistication in costume, music and production design adhere to Anderson’s distinct, cinematic style. Rather than compromise his worldview and personal growth to conform to audience expectations, Anderson sticks to what makes his characters ‘identifiable and understandable to the audience’ to keep both his and his film’s integrity intact.
Set in 1950’s London, prolific fashion master Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is entrusted by members of high society to weave and fabricate lavish clothing for them. The meticulousness and painstaking attention to detail Woodcock revels in makes him a man of a prim, proper, particular and pristine livelihood. It’s his job to give people something they thought they lost, something they always had but the outfit reminds them of that fine trait.

His ‘so and so’ sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) accompanies him to his almost every need to ensure the House Of Woodcock remains a mainstay for countesses and socialites. Women who don’t appease to his standards are shunned and soon escorted out by Cyril. It’s her job to know what Reynolds is thinking to keep things in a satisfying movement.
Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) is a next potential muse for Reynolds when out for breakfast one morning and is won over by her. She doesn’t particularly stand out in a crowd, but her warm smile and kind eyes entice Reynolds to where he’s hoping for her consent to dine with him. After ordering a poached egg, bacon, sausages, welsh rabbit, scones with raspberry jam (pretty sure he ordered more, he has an insatiable appetite), the two are mutually fascinated with one another.
Alma isn’t quite as simple as we’d be quick to perceive. She soon proves defiant, rigid and authoritative that rocks Reynolds’s world to where they’re both at constant odds with one another. At one point at breakfast, previous to his encounter with Alma, he says to a woman clearly longing for him that he doesn’t have time for confrontations. He doesn’t like challenges outside of his routine, and the steadfastness of his work are what keep him going, quite telling when he says “this is my place, this is what I do”. Cyril even imparts some advice to Alma of his etiquette but replies then with “I have to love him in my own way”. From then on in, Reynolds is off balance as his degrading, presumptuous ways may soon come to an end.
Recently nominated for 6 Academy Awards, its notice for its costume design is surely a lock for a win; considering its a film that revolves around beautiful, luxurious clothing. Each outfit Reynolds constructs is telling of his search for the next inspiration in his life, there’s some familial torment that provides insight into Reynolds’s psyche that makes for enriching drama further on in the story. The emotion dynamics between the two at an explosive evening dinner is where the fine line is drawn in their relationship. Her contentiousness breathes new life into the households which at times makes for some unexpected black comedy.
Jonny Greenwoods evocative, elegant music is beautifully tender and tastefully strange (‘House of Woodcock’ is a particular standout). I was consistently blown away by its emotive power while matching the extravagance of the glorious set design. The sensuousness and brooding intensity are skillfully directed by Anderson who frames his characters in such close proximity and rarely ever has them talking off-screen with steady cinematography. The reactions we see of them is essential in deciphering their honesty and ambitions.

When you get a prestigious actor in a prestigious picture, awards season takes plenty of notice. Sir Lewis in all his thorough, super focused glory is as per usual Oscar ready. In no way do I take for granted of his acting powers, the naturalism always mesmerises me in his performances. Staying true to his craft outside of production, in interviews, Vicky Krieps would refer to Lewis as Reynolds, and he learned how to sew before filming.
It’s unfortunate Krieps didn’t receive a Best Actress nomination. Her work is superfluous and matches Lewis beat for beat in scenes of dispute and affection. She’s an unknown force that continues the streak of strong-willed, formidable women. Much of my favourite characters of recent months have all been women, and Krieps’ work is one of Phantom Thread’s biggest successes. Lesley Manville is magnificent, her Cyril is concerned and cordial but shows command in scenes that require a firm, stern hand.
Once again Anderson demonstrates his affinity for prying the truth from his disturbed, flawed characters. Reynolds is someone who doesn’t like stepping in puddles, or in other words doesn’t like to get messy. It’s a story that speaks of stepping out of our comfort zone and existing in life beyond superficiality and our individualism. I saw a tweet from Diddy a little while back that said: “your life doesn’t get better with chance, it gets better by change”.  There are many riches in life, and while Reynolds is well of domestically, he denies himself life’s true riches. Precision doesn’t always lead to perfection; perfection can sometimes be a cruel monster.
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