Phantom Thread (2017)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

A Mighty Breakfast

The movie world jumped for joy when they heard that Daniel Day-Lewis was reuniting with Paul Thomas Anderson once more for another period epic. Although it was upsetting to hear that it would be Day-Lewis’ final swansong, there was no doubt that it would be a suitable film to bow out in style with and I’m delighted to confirm that that’s true.

Although not as powerful as the duo’s previous There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread is an exquisitely crafted film with phenomenal performances and enigmatic characters that dare you never to tear your eyes from the screen. There’s a tremendous tension bubbling beneath the film’s stylish exterior, yet that tension never quite explodes in the way you might expect.

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Phantom Thread is a love story with a strange twist. It follows a fashion designer called Reynolds Woodcock who is about as fascinating as a character gets. A beyond fussy workaholic who lives with his coldly reserved sister (played beautifully by Lesley Manville) and feels utterly cursed despite living lavishly. We meet him at his lowest point during breakfast where his latest relationship is in tatters. His sister convinces him to go away for a while where he meets Vicky Krieps’ Alma, a shy waitress who becomes besotted with the eccentric genius after he orders enough food to feed the Vatican City. From then on we’re treated with the weirdly captivating ups and downs of their beyond volatile relationship.

Some might say that nothing much happens in the film’s 130 minute running time. I heard an old dear behind me say, ‘well that was far too long. I would’ve edited that down.’ But thank god they didn’t hire her as editor because there’s so much more going on beneath the surface. This is a character-driven film, very much like Anderson’s previous There Will Be Blood and The Master and as such requires multi-layered, strong performances to carry the narrative along and this film does so in spade loads.

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It doesn’t come as much surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis gives an outstanding Oscar-worthy performance given that the man already has three of them. It would be wonderful to see him win a record-breaking fourth but it looks as though this year belongs to Gary Oldman. He completely transforms into the character and was extreme as ever when preparing for the role. Everyone on set had to refer to him as his character’s name and he even learnt how to sew and make dresses. The result is another astonishing performance, if it really is his final film then it’s a pretty spectacular exit.

Equally as magnetic is Vicky Krieps, a relatively unknown actress from Luxembourg who is entirely believable as the young muse falling head over heels in love with Woodcock’s peculiar charm. Lesley Manville is also quietly hilarious as the ultra-frosty sister whom Woodcock adores. In fact there’s a quiet hilarity running through the entire film. Woodcock’s eccentricities make him appear as a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode at any moment. The slightest noise at breakfast riles him, as does cooking anything in butter. His outbursts are both funny and sad at the same time. Funny because they seem so trivial and sad because this is obviously a man who struggles to find happiness in anything despite having it all.

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The film is also beautiful to look at, as any film about beauty and the fashion industry should be. You could proudly roll it down the catwalk for everyone to marvel at. Anderson even worked as his own director of photography for the film and the result is luscious imagery, some even quite haunting. There’s a heightened sense of reality in the film which makes it feel dreamlike in quality.

In some ways Phantom Thread is the opposite of There Will Be Blood. It’s far more subtle and contained with most of the drama happening within Woodcock’s majestic home. It doesn’t have the same raging intensity and is instead surprisingly tender. It leaves you with much to think about and even if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like their films to leave them thinking, you can’t help but be astounded by the highest calibre of acting. Films like this don’t come around too often so let’s treasure it and cherish it even more so that it could be the last time we see the greatest actor of our generation on screen.

nine-out-of-ten

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