Phantom Thread is the latest film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. The story is set in 1950s London: renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.
Going into a film such as Phantom Thread, you need to be consciously optimistic: even though those in front and behind the camera rarely disappoint, the premise itself could easily derail into a boring slog of outlandish dresses and fancy dinners. However, PTA takes the story and makes it thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. The character of Reynolds is anti-social, living only for his work, yet, when he falls in love with Alma, he starts having an internal struggle that keeps every interaction between him and the other characters fresh. The dialogue is excellent, with delightful back-and-forths within the characters that become verbal skirmish.
What truly made me fall in love with Anderson’s direction is that he understands a crucial aspect of cinema: cinema of movements. Most of the interactions in this film can be understood through the gorgeous visuals alone (courtesy of PTA himself), making this an interesting film to experience sans-dialogue, as a silent film. There are some hilarious scenes where the Woodcocks and Alma interact during breakfast that take full advantage of the excellent subtle movements of the actors, as well as terrific sound design, where even something as simple as a man being irritated by butter being put on bread can be comedy gold. There were at least five instances during this film that I was crying by how much I was trying to contain my laughter (I was not expecting to experience such strong emotions).
The cast is terrific here: Daniel Day-Lewis (in his final performance?) transforms once again as he becomes a true fashion designer who is torn between his past and present loves; Vicky Krieps is a revelation, becoming the true lead of the film the longer it goes on; Leslie Manville is wonderfully cold, with stares that mean a thousand words. The cinematography by PTA is excellent, with vibrant colors and smooth movements that make each frame feel truly alive. The custom and production design is of the highest quality, transporting the audience among the richest people of post-war London. The music by Jonny Greenwood (long collaborator of Anderson) is a thing of beauty, and a piece of art in and of itself, enhancing the entire cinematic experience.
While for me this is very close to a perfect movie, not everyone (especially general audiences) are going to feel that way: there comes a point, more or less halfway through the film, where something happens that changes everything. When that comes, you are either with the film (and thus will enjoy and love it even more), or you absolutely despise it. It is a bold choice, but also one that makes perfect sense, and it adds extra layers of richness to the film.
Overall, Phantom Thread is an enthralling, passionate, delightful, hilarious, and excellent romantic drama that is much deeper and more complex than it seems. I highly recommend checking it out, and buying the soundtrack as soon as you exit the movie theater. So far, the best film of 2018 (let’s be honest, no one outside of the US saw this in 2017).
Visual Effects: 10
Violence & Gore: 3
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 4