PHANTOM THREAD review by Mark Walters – Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with Daniel Day-Lewis

PHANTOM THREAD review by Mark Walters – Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with Daniel Day-Lewis

Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies are almost always worth a look, and even some of the more divisive entries are still impressive in their presentation. His latest is PHANTOM THREAD, which reunites him with actor Daniel Day-Lewis for their first work together since THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps co-star, but the real allure of this production is it will serve as the final acting role for Daniel Day-Lewis, who announced he’s retiring from Hollywood. Many are hoping he will go out with a bang… can you imagine him winning the Oscar for his final film performance? It just might happen, although he already missed out on a Golden Globe. It’s safe to say his final acting role wouldn’t be subpar, but how does the film containing it come across… is it a worthy exit or sad misfire? The answer is somewhere in between.

Set in post-war 1950s London, England (though I don’t think that’s very clearly defined), the story follows renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who spend their days allowing Reynolds to do his thing, sometimes expecting or even screaming for rather specific conditions. His current love interest has become too demanding for his tastes, so Cyril sees to it that she’s no longer a bother. We will later learn this has likely been a recurring event, with Reynolds finding a woman to be his live-in muse for as long as he can tolerate her. And it’s easy to see why he would fascinate single women, as he exists at the center of British fashion while dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. His latest private obsession is a common waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is taken with him as well. She finds comfort in his smile and interest in her and soon takes residence within his home, where she quickly learns that despite their closeness in certain moments, there are many boundaries within his domicile. At first Alma serves as inspiration for Reynolds, and even starts to feel a passion for his dresses and the respect they should receive, going so far as to berate others who don’t appreciate his genius. It’s a strong but flawed relationship, as at times there’s love and passion, and at other times silence and distance. As months pass by, Alma becomes disenchanted with Reynolds, but doesn’t want to give up on what they could have together. She also knows that Cyril will do whatever is necessary to protect her genius brother, which means she can’t become a nuisance for either of them. The story eventually turns into a tale of how far someone will go to control what they love… or need.

PHANTOM THREAD is equal parts fascinating and frustrating, as we’re delivered incredible performances by both Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps, but they’re caught in a narrative that doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s trying to be. Paul Thomas Anderson (who also wrote the film) starts things off giving us the feeling that we’re in for an unlikely romance story between two very different people, then moves things into a character study of a creative genius doing what he does best and all the struggles that come with it… then it becomes something darker and much more strange. Concepts of one-sided love and mental frustration take the lead, and the final act moves into very odd territory that will potentially anger and perhaps confuse many viewers. Is this a love story? Perhaps, the ending would certainly insinuate that, albeit in a very unusual way. But those final moments will have you wondering who exactly this film is for. Anderson’s productions aren’t always accessible to average audiences. For every star-filled masterpiece like BOOGIE NIGHTS, there’s other films like THE MASTER or THERE WILL BE BLOOD that will have some folks scratching their heads or just not enjoying the ride, understandably. It doesn’t make him a bad filmmaker, quite the opposite, but he’s definitely someone who challenges audiences to experience unusual narratives more often than not. PHANTOM THREAD is not likely to go down as one of his better films, but there’s still interesting things to see here.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those rare actors who can be interesting regardless of whether he’s delivering an intense reading or a more subdued character. I think back on his early work like THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS or IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, and it’s impressive to see his varied performances that he’s delivered through the years. While this newest film may not be considered anything extraordinary or powerful, it is fascinating to watch. He knows how to capture the fascination within the eccentricities of a creative genius, even when it’s one who is mostly quiet and introverted. It’s a masterful reading of a man that would be very hard to love, and even harder to live with, but is somehow understandable and justified in his quirky behavior. No true genius is ever likely to be down to earth and normal, and Daniel finds the right balance of angst and admirable charm when playing Reynolds. Vicky Krieps is rather quiet and mousy at first playing Alma, the unwitting young girl who is taken with her unexpected suitor, but she evolves and shows quiet rage as their life together begins to unravel and implode. She holds her own with Daniel Day-Lewis in a way that’s challenging and immensely impressive. This performance should lead to her getting plenty of work in film, it’s quite amazing to take in. Lesley Manville is also quite good as the stiff and calculating Cyril, a necessary evil in the life of this master dressmaker, who is quite direct and callous without ever seeming manipulative. She’s that controlling force that Reynolds so desperately needs in his life, but perhaps has also allowed him to devolve into a lesser man that he ultimately could be. All three performers are phenomenal here, which elevates the material to a higher level than it might deserve.

PHANTOM THREAD is certain to be an award show darling, and has already made it high up on many critic lists. I didn’t love it, but it stuck with me for many days after taking it in, and it’s a film I do find myself wanting revisit. I also know it’s bound to be one of those movies some will love and others will hate, and I can fully understand either side of that. I wasn’t sure where it was going at first, and found myself surprised as it neared the end, but the ultimate resolve in the final moments is what will leave most people talking, and it should be very interesting to hear some of those discussions both for and perhaps strongly against the ending. Either way, if this isn’t considered a stellar final entry for Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s absolutely safe to say he didn’t phone it in.

PHANTOM THREAD opens wide January 19, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.