House of PTA: Phantom Thread review

Photo courtesy Focus Pictures, Phantom Thread via FP Press
Photo courtesy Focus Pictures, Phantom Thread via FP Press /

The eighth feature film from one the most talented working directors today, Phantom Thread is another Paul Thomas Anderson film which can be considered a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis stars in his last film before retirement as fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, and his relationship with his new muse Alma (played by Vicky Krieps).

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Delving into the world of London in the 1950s, Phantom Thread is a story of obsession, and of the battle of power between Reynolds Woodcock and his new muse/love interest. There is an indulgence and extravagant sensibility to his lifestyle, it is one that does not like to be altered or disturbed. But after meeting with Alma, he finds that she is just as strong-willed as he is, and that he has to adapt to their developing romance.

If this is to be the final film from Daniel Day-Lewis, it seems apt that such a devoted actor as himself (remember he carved a canoe during the filming of The Last of the Mohicans) will be portraying someone as obsessed and staggeringly stubborn as Reynolds Woodcock. He is a “most demanding man,” almost like a child. Reynolds Woodcock is on paper someone who is miles different from Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis; other PTA role in There Will Be Blood), but where Plainview is wanting power and wealth, Woodcock is wanting love and care.

Phantom Thread
Photo courtesy Focus Pictures, Phantom Thread via FP Press /

For someone as demanding as Woodcock, Alma is a counterweight to him. Unassuming at first glance, she challenges Woodcock and stretches his patience to almost breaking point. But she holds her own, and she knows how to appease and fight him (and win). None more so during the wedding of Barbara Rose, she is simmering with rage and passion, totally on side with her lover. Vicky Krieps is astonishing, a perfect flip side to Daniel Day-Lewis.

The sibling relationship between Reynolds and Cyril is pure and honest. They fight as brother and sister do, but they care for each other. Lesley Manville is someone else who can share the screen with Day-Lewis and counter everything Reynolds throws at her.

Food plays a huge role in the film. In its opening scenes, Reynolds orders the most fantastical breakfast: Welsh rare bit, poached egg on top, bacon, scones, butter, cream, jam (not strawberry),  lapsing tea, and some sausages. There is something hidden inside the food that reveals itself in unexpected ways.

The cinematography is noticeably kept without ownership, PTA was unable to work with long-time collaborator Robert Elswit (shot all PTA’s films bar The Master), so this has been called a more collective effort. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t delightfully beautiful, far from it. Like the dresses the shots are exquisite in places. And with a certain Hitchcock shot, which is straight out of Psycho, Phantom Thread hints to the deeper obsessions within.

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This is the fourth film that Jonny Greenwood has scored for PTA, after There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice, and The Master. For me this is his best.  Delicate piano to match the delicate relationship, the delicate dresses. It is alongside There Will Be Blood as his most classical sounding piece, and like There Will Be Blood he hits and samples other greater piece of music, a reference here and there to keep us atune.

The title Phantom Thread comes from the phenomena of seamstresses, whom after days of sewing and stitching still repeat the same actions long after finishing. It is these repeating actions that are so exact, that they become second nature, that one has to give in to the repetitions in order to thrive.  It is very surprising how funny Phantom Thread is, how perverse it gets, but how beautiful and gracious it feels.

Phantom Thread is playing in most theaters.