“As soon as it starts you are sucked into the world of Reynolds Woodcock and subjected to all of his quirks and shortfalls.”
Phantom Thread is the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and it follows renowned dress-maker Reynolds Woodcock as he navigates through his life obsessing over every detail. I had the chance to see Phantom Thread last night and I thought it was magnificent. It’s crazy to me how no two Paul Thomas Anderson movies are alike, and yet they are all distinctly his movies.
So where do I start with Phantom Thread? I guess the easiest place to start would be with the story itself. Now Phantom Thread is what I would call a ‘slow burn’, much like Anderson’s other films, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t pulled in the second that it started. In Phantom Thread we get an in-depth look at the mind of an artist. We get to see the obsessions, the quirks, the tantrums; all of it is in full view. This paints a very real picture of what many believe artists to act like, but it also painted a very real image of a temperament that I personally have experienced in the past (and still do to this day). I’m not going to go so far as to say that Reynolds Woodcock suffers from any form of mental illness, but there is enough that is off about his character that really makes you wonder. And of course this existence only gets more intriguing with the inclusion of Alma, a young girl who becomes a sort of muse for Woodcock. These two characters are two sides of the same coin, and seeing them interact is intensely captivating. One one side you have Woodcock himself who I wouldn’t hesitate to describe as childish. He throws fits, he has very particular tastes, and his highs are really high; but Woodcock also manages to repress a lot of this when he is dealing with other people. Alma on the other hand exhibits a lot of these same tendencies, but does so more overtly. Seeing these two characters go toe-to-toe in a lot of their conversations, especially later in the film, is amazing. It’s like seeing an immovable object meet an unstoppable force, but it’s a lot more emotionally charged. These characters play off of each other so well that you struggle to actually find someone to root for. I mean, it’s not too hard to think Woodcock is an asshole but then when you really start to think about it Alma does a lot of the same things in slightly different manners. If I had to have a gripe with the story of Phantom Thread it would be that the ending was really fucking weird, but then again so was the rest of the movie.
And of course these characters were made so vivid and interesting because of the performances. Let’s get the cat out of the bag here and discuss the performance of a little-known indie actor named Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s going to come as no surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to movies that Daniel Day-Lewis once again delivered a phenomenal performance. The way he seamlessly became Reynolds Woodcock as if he had actually slipped into someone else’s skin was amazing, but none of this should be a surprise to you. Daniel Day-Lewis is known for giving amazing performances, so for me to gush about how good he was in Phantom Thread would be kind of a moot point. Who hasn’t been discussed to death is Vicky Krieps, who played Alma in the film. I already mentioned how the two characters are very repressed and overt in their emotions, and this actually fits with the skills of both of these actors. Daniel Day-Lewis is a seasoned vet and he can convey any emotion with a look in his eye and a shift in his posture; Vicky Krieps on the other hand played Alma very out in the open. She threw all of her cards on the table. This allowed her to actually get a word in and hold her own against Day-Lewis. The way that Krieps conveys all of these complex emotions that her character is going through is masterful, and I was equally transfixed with her performance as I was with Day-Lewis’. And don’t even get me started on how the two played off of each other. The amount that can be said without uttering a single word between the two of them was stunning, and it never got old. They truly were playing to the strengths of one another, and working together to create what is a truly magnificent film.
And not only was Phantom Thread amazing on a story and performance level, but on literally every other level as well. Now the production of Phantom Thread is known to have had notoriously cramped shooting conditions becasue Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t want to shoot on a set instead opting for the real house in which Phantom Thread takes place. This may seem like a director being a real Woodcock to you, but in the movie it really does show. The beauty found in every frame of the interior of the house is amazing, and knowing the struggle while shooting makes a lot of the shots all the more impressive. Much like the dresses that were being made in Phantom Thread, the movie itself was a work of art. And I would be amiss if I didn’t discuss the absolutely stellar score that accompanied Phantom Thread. Johnny Greenwood’s score is nothing like you would expect from a movie like Phantom Thread, but it fits so perfectly. Instead of the usual classical orchestral score that movies of the sort would have (which aren’t completely absent during Phantom Thread), Johnny Greenwood opted for a more relaxed jazz score. The best word I can use to describe the soundtrack, and I don’t even think its a real word, is ‘floaty’. By that I mean the music seems to movie you along through the scenes almost as if your feet are floating off the ground. It’s very smooth, almost dreamlike, and it manages to once again create such a unique and beautiful environment for the film to thrive.
Overall Phantom Thread is a masterpiece of a film. As soon as it starts you are sucked into the world of Reynolds Woodcock and subjected to all of his quirks and shortfalls. The performances will have you transfixed, the direction will completely immerse you, and the score will come close to bringing a tear to your eye. Everything about Phantom Thread is perfect.
I give Phantom Thread an A