Merriam Webster defines sumptuous as something that is “rich, luxurious, or magnificent” and I cannot think of a better application of the word than to describe Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature, Phantom Thread. A marvel of filmmaking, Phantom Thread as a piece of modern art is absolutely decadent – from the luscious cinematography to the snide and sneakily funny script, the nerve-racking sound design to the rich, textured performances.
That it feels of another era, with much in common with subtle Golden Age sensibilities of Hollywood’s yesteryear while still maintaining the low-key demented curios that define Anderson’s films, speaks to the divine draftsmanship at play. Phantom Thread is a film to be breathed in and enrapt by. A wholly enveloping cinematic experience that effortlessly champions the perfect grace of film as an art form. It’s also PTA’s best film since 2007’s There Will Be Blood.
Phantom Thread teams Anderson with There Will Be Blood star, Daniel Day-Lewis. Where the milkshake-slurping Daniel Plainview was a capitalist menace and narcissistic opportunist, Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock is a quiet and calculating figure, mysterious and rounded. A prissy perfectionist and “confirmed bachelor”, Reynolds labors to provide London’s most wealthy and respectable clientele with his handmade wares. A master of haute couture in the post-War 50s, Reynolds is a man of tradition and precision, despising the “chic” movement almost as much as any untoward interruption to his quiet morning routine.
Reynold’s sightly estate is a revolving door for new muses and lovers, where lust and inspiration mix somewhere between the sewing room and the bedroom. His elder sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) plays the hard-nosed bureaucrat to Reynold’s artist dressmaker, enforcing rules about the house, whether that be giving the boot to dried up lovers, preparing meals or keeping the books. With the arrival of fraulein Alma (Vicky Krieps), a new cycle begins but Reynold has no idea the places in store for him when Alma proves willing to do anything to keep their relationship afloat.
Often regarded as one of the finest actors in all of cinematic history, Daniel Day-Lewis is expectantly superb as the moody Reynolds, offering a convincing portrait of a man trapped in patterns of lust, infatuation, apathy, and rage. While it might surprise no one that DDL fires on all cylinders to give one of the finest male performances of 2017, the fact that his co-star Vicky Krieps is able to not only keep up but give a performance absolutely on par with, if not even better than the celebrated thespian, going toe to toe with a cinematic great and not backing down an inch, speaks to this actress’ wondrous coming out party and her monsterous performance onscreen.
Krieps is simply sublime as Alma, channeling the naivety, jealousy, and possessiveness of this character as she transitions from jejune waitress to seasoned five-dimensional mental chess player. A scene shared with Manville, answering a concerned doctor in chorus, perfectly encapsulates Alma’s growing power and Krieps never for a second overexerts or overplays her hand. Credit too to Manville who plays steely and cautious loving perfectly. Both would be well deserving of a golden statuette.
Outside of the performances, Anderson uses the film to showcase his unmatched talents as an artist with every detail of the film resonating with measured meaning and hidden purpose. Grandiose cinematography (also from Anderson) erupts whenever Reynolds finds himself behind the wheel of an automobile, the costumery is elegance given form (even when some of Reynolds’ dresses are overly fussy and dated, they still reek of high-class perfectionism). Johnny Greenwood‘s score is a fuzzy blanket and hot cup of tea but it too smuggles in the occasional sinister note. Even the sound design expertly emphasizes something about the characters, in many instances, how easily aggravated Reynolds can become with the most minor perceived slight.
Don’t let anyone fool you. Phantom Thread is anything but “boring” and it’s loaded with purpose and voice. Just as Reynolds sews secret messages into the fabric of his creations, Anderson hides meaning in plain sight, layering Phantom Thread’s cat and mouse romance with deliciously off-kilter perspective’s on enduring love and fetism. There is a fine line drawn between possession and love that Anderson obscures, blurs and then erases entirely. As Phantom Thread embraces its weird, subversive, sexual side, it conjures its characters’ perversions from the shadows and into the light, leading to a remarkable and remarkably unpredictable capstone that speaks to the indescribable oddity that is the love shared between two people and the lengths we go to stoke a lasting union.
CONCLUSION: A beautiful and thought-provoking slice of cinematic perfection, ‘Phantom Thread’ is just aces across the board. Smart, rebellious, sneakily funny, and strangely romantic, performed with the measured gusto of those working at the tippy top of their game, and characterized by sterling technical precision, ‘Phantom Thread’ is a perfect representation of cinema at its most fine-tuned and narratively daring.