After a three-year hiatus, Writer-Director Paul Thomas Anderson returns with Phantom Thread, a tale of a dressmaker and his muse. Oh, and it’s probably Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film, but whatever.
Set in 1950’s London, Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), dressmaker to high society and royalty. Woodcock’s business is handled by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), while he focuses on the design portion of their boutique. He is a man of discerning tastes and everything in his life is rigidly structured. When he grows tired of his latest muse, he returns to his family’s home in the country, leaving Cyril to show the girl the door. This is their routine. While dining at a restaurant in the country, Woodcock becomes enchanted with a waitress there, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Soon, Woodcock moves Alma into his home and life as his new muse. At first, Alma is smitten with the dressmaker, but she soon sees how rigid and exacting he is. All he seems to care about is work, where Alma wants them to have a normal relationship. If only there were some way for her to bend him to her will….
I really enjoyed Phantom Thread, but I pretty much enjoy everything Paul Thomas Anderson does. He’s a supremely talented filmmaker and one of the best working today. The film is wryly funny throughout and very cerebral in that all the action is internalized. So, while a lot happens between Reynolds and Alma emotionally, on the surface, it feels like nothing is really happening in the film. Until…something does happen, which I won’t spoil, and it leads to a positively messed up twist at the end. The twist was definitely shocking, but it made the finale a little less than believable to me. Also, the pace of the narrative might be a little slow for some audiences. However, in spite of these issues, the film is still a compelling and fascinating character study with amazing performances from the entire cast.
Daniel Day-Lewis is an absolute master and he completely disappears into the role, as he always does. He’s such a natural performer that it’s seamless. His command of the screen is absolute and if this is indeed his final appearance, he will be sorely missed by film lovers everywhere. Lesley Manville is fantastic as Cyril. She’s cold and detached, but at the same time, funny. She’s a great foil for Day-Lewis. Krieps is also great as Alma as she tries to figure out Reynolds and his world. There’s a lot going on behind her eyes and she has several great scenes with Day-Lewis.
Overall, Phantom Thread is a fine film with a great cast. The deliberate pacing of the story will not be for everyone, and it’s definitely not Anderson’s—or Day-Lewis’—best, but it is a worthy entry into both of their filmographies.