“Phantom Thread” Movie Review


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     “Phantom Thread”, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s sumptuous, almost too perfect opus about an eccentric dressmaker and his bizarro triangular relationship with his sister and his young lover is one of the best films of 2017, a sure fire awards contender, and represents some of the director’s most notable work in the last decade. Expertly acted and designed with the most minute of detail, Anderson’s work here may be one of the most subtly shocking narratives of any film in the last few years, utilizing the impeccable talents of three time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis to create one the most memorable and unique characters of his brilliant film career.  And the supporting turns by Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville fill each scene with both the kind of genuine love you would expect from people close to you, as well as a constant unnerving tension that bites at your heels.  The film is a master’s work in the study of close family relationships, examining the inner workings of each character’s personality and how they directly affect those beside them.

     Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has built a reputation as the finest dressmaker and designer in London, sought after by the wealthiest of clients who seek to look their very best when in the public eye.  Taking place sometime in the 1950s, the film seeks to first establish Day-Lewis’ character through a series of scenes that indicate his meticulous nature.  He’s an older man who follows staunch daily routines which in his mind continue to contribute to his overwhelming success.  We may look at an individual like this as being set in his ways, but you quickly get the idea Reynolds lives his life a certain way because it is this regimented lifestyle that keeps him focused and gives him purpose.  He says he has never been married, preferring instead to live life as a sought after bachelor while also living with his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who acts as a sort of manager for Reynolds business and personal affairs.

     One morning while having breakfast alone at a seaside hotel, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress half his age whom he immediately takes a liking to and subsequently asks to dinner when she delivers the bountiful early morning meal just as he ordered it. The initial date has Reynolds taking Alma for a spin in his sports car and later back to his home where he insists she try on several dresses he has recently made.  Wearing only a slip and standing on a wooden box, Alma is examined by Reynolds as he surveys every inch and feature of her body, not in a sexual way, but rather as a master craftsman conducting the ritualistic processes that have led to his standing as a maker of the world’s finest dresses.  This excuses him to a certain extent after making several critical comments highlighting some of the less than perfect parts of her body, though Alma remains visibly shaken.  And then Cyril walks in the room as if this whole exercise is a well practiced routine amongst the many women Reynolds has likely utilized for this exact purpose.  She too examines Alma as if to pick through her with a fine toothed comb before sitting in a chair and writing down her dress measurements as Reynolds calls out the numbers.  It’s an odd situation at best.  One in which if you were Alma, you may have shown yourself the door.

     But the relationship blossoms and soon Alma moves into Reynolds’ home, assigned to her own room, but often sharing a bed with her new found love.  Strange as it may be, you never really understand what her function within the household is in Reynolds’ eyes.  She obviously irritates him with her various noisy, ill-mannered habits and inability to properly conduct business within the framework Reynolds is accustomed to.  Many times, this leads to profane outbursts in which Reynolds belittles her, which is done repeatedly to a point where the relationship comes into serious question.  And there’s Cyril always lurking between them, giving no indication as to whether or not she supports Alma and what she brings to her brother’s life.  There comes a point in the film where all of this reaches an interesting climax, leaving Reynolds unexpectedly ill.

     It’s during this illness where Alma’s true purpose is realized.  Early in the film, Reynolds speaks often of his deceased mother whom he misses dearly and is said to have been responsible for teaching him his lucrative trade.  What Alma discovers as Reynolds suffers from flu symptoms is a tender man who remains calm and appreciates her at his bedside, displaying the very same loving characteristics as his mother once did.  It becomes clear this is what he longs for the most, preferring to sometimes step away from the rigid confines of his otherwise stressful existence to be cared for while at his most vulnerable.  He becomes so moved by the experience that he decides to take Alma’s hand in marriage, not understanding the potential consequences her permanent residence in his and Cyril’s lives will likely cause.

     From the very first frame, “Phantom Thread” is beautiful to look at, exhibiting Anderson’s deft eye for scene composition and creating an endless array of glorious settings for his actors to occupy.  And it may be his best film since “There Will Be Blood” (2007), while being a departure from the frustrating nature of “The Master” (2012) or the befuddling storyline of “Inherent Vice” (2014).  It’s as if Anderson figured out a way to bottle up everything he does well and present it along with a very nuanced performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. “Phantom Thread” is a haunting vision of how a married couple deals with the wants and needs of their spouse while  still managing to flourish outside the home, examining on a deeper level what may become necessary in order to stay together with the one you love.  It also is a fine example as to why I don’t eat mushrooms.  GRADE: A