Ignore the dull advertising, Phantom Thread is no normal Oscar bait affair.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Lesley Manville (Maleficent)
Runtime: 130 minutes
Australian Classification: M
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91% Fresh
Phantom Thread is a seductive contradiction. Exploring era often associated with hardship, director Paul Thomas Anderson spares no expense or time in transporting viewers to the opulent and distant world of high fashion London in the wake of World War Two.
Beneath the stunning fabric covered surface, Phantom Thread is a fiercely discomforting exploration an ill-balanced relationship between a fictitious women’s clothing designer and a beautiful young foreigner. Agitated by his perfectionism, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) removes himself from the source of his anxiety, his home studio, fleeing to his reclusive English property. Here he meets young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Transfixed by her beauty and mystery, Reynolds invites the illuminating Eastern European to live with him in London. Upon moving to the capital city Vicky struggles to sustain her initial infatuation with her senior suitor, who lives with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who manages the administration of his opulent fashion house.
Balancing elation with an eerie detachment, Day-Lewis is harrowing. The masterful performance leaves viewers at a constant unease that at any point Reynolds’ frustration may grow into something more sinister. Day-Lewis’ every movement and smirk is purposeful. Phantom Thread is said to serve as a curtain call on Day-Lewis’ critically adored career. This performance could quite easily add the fourth Academy Award for Best Actor to Day-Lewis’ mantle.
Alluding to a parental origin of personality detachment, Lesley Manville’s performance as Reynolds’ older sister is similarly haunting. With an unchanging coarse manner, Manville’s Cyril purposely avoids any character development in response to the story arc.
Although Manville and Day-Lewis have each been nominated for Academy Awards for their performances (the film has six in total), unknown Luxembourgian Vicky Krieps is Phantom Thread’s cinematic linchpin. Acting as the eyes of the audience judgement, Alma is equal parts powerful and fragile. Alma responds to Reynolds’ frigid routine with servitude. As Reynolds’ blanketing abusiveness continues she is left with no choice but to take matters into her own hands. Uncomfortable and for the most part silent, the scenes the Krieps and Day-Lewis share are Phantom Thread’s finest. You will struggle to look at asparagus in the same way after a particularly heated interaction.
Phantom Thread is director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first picture set outside of the United States. Characterised by an appreciation of slow burn cinema this feature fits the mould of Anderson’s most successful pictures (including There Will Be Blood and Boogienights). The fluid movement of the camera is hypnotic, elevating the grandeur of the subject matter and scenery to new heights. Thomas Anderson’s attention to detail in terms of costume design is immaculate. Each actor was fitted with a microphone beneath their costume, so as to humanise the stunning fabrics. Every movement showcases the mastery of the design.
As with the costumes, the score, devised by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood takes on a life of its own. Endlessly looming, the tones and textures meld exquisitely with moments of sadness, quiet and frustration as if the score has lungs of its own.
Phantom Thread’s greatest weakness is its inaccurate publicity. Rather than promoting the confusingly addictive nature of the film provides, the campaign improperly depicts the film as a typical “Oscar Bait” period dramas. An ill-fated move that has earned the film less than $15million at the box office.
Like the stitching of fine gowns, Phantom Thread is an intricately woven masterpiece, where every thread serves a purpose.