How does one praise genius? I’d be lying if I said I understood all of the potential threads in Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest films. I’ve barely scratched the surface on his filmography, but it doesn’t take too much background information to see a master at work. Phantom Thread (2017) is a magnificent film in every regard. The story is compelling and driving, the production is gorgeous, the score is emotionally riveting, and the cast is beyond impressive.
Phantom Thread makes ’50s dressmaking entertaining
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an expert dressmaker who lives with his sister in a gorgeous mansion that doubles as his studio. It becomes abundantly clear that he struggles with relationships, as his girlfriend at the time attempts to get the slightest bit of attention from him over breakfast. Cyril (Lesley Manville) suggests it may be time for Johanna to be asked to leave, to which Woodcock merely nods in agreement.
It’s suggested that he travel to the country after his newest dress, made for the Countess Henrietta Harding (Gina McKee), is shown at a ball. There he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his new muse, and a cycle we only just glimpsed begins again. However, Alma isn’t just another girl to be used as inspiration and adoration and then tucked away. It’s here that the film finds its most interesting thread that Anderson decided to tug on and wrap the audience in.
There is so much to latch onto in this film. Woodcock is cold and curt towards Alma, but her reactions often warrant slight chuckles from the audience. She’s tough and doesn’t just take his workaholic attitude lightly. The work-obsessed genius theme definitely plays a bit with this story, but so does love conquering all. Though the kind of love on display isn’t one found everywhere; it’s hidden and tucked away. Like shucking those ugly oysters digging for the lustrous pearl, it requires an immense amount of effort and potential pain in order to retrieve the reward. Alma is an expert at taking those cuts and moving towards her goal.
The cast is superb
Not enough praise can be given to the two leads in this film. Day-Lewis needs none, as he is regarded as one of the best actors working today. However, Krieps stands toe-to-toe with the legend and manages to be as dominating a force. One of the highlights of the film is a breakfast where it becomes apparent that she isn’t from his world. The silence of his morning feast is shattered by her in every movement from grabbing a piece of toast, scrapping, and then buttering it. His frustration boils rapidly, and the back-and-forth that follows is a great example of the caliber of both actors.
Anderson’s ability is on display in every aspect of this film. His ability to juggle the various tones the film takes on alone is a demonstration of his mastery. In many ways, Anderson’s mastery is reflected in Woodcock’s craft as he sketches, sews, or tailors dresses. One must wonder if Anderson finds it as difficult to deal with people as Woodcock does? Is this a self-exploration in understanding the needs of others, or just a crafty film that is entertaining while being thought-provoking?
Regardless of the reason, Anderson has done it again. He set a film in 1950’s London and made its main character a dressmaker, and crafted a story that is so compelling you’d think it was an action film. The story is unique and has a few twists that make it hard to know exactly where it is going to end, but it felt completely – yet darkly – satisfying. Phantom Thread earns the Must See rating.