Acclaimed actor Daniel Day-Lewis goes out on high note in his final performance with Phantom Thread, a period piece centered around British fashion in the 1950’s.
RATING: ★★★★ (out of four stars)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is a deliciously unexpected period romance that showcases an intoxicating debut performance from Vicky Krieps opposite the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis (who sadly is retiring, however he is most assuredly going out in fine form as mentioned previously in the excerpt above).
Mr. Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed designer in fashionable and even royal circles. His sister, played by Lesley Manville, is his ever present manager. He is certainly responsible for the gorgeous clothing, while she is undoubtedly responsible for providing him the structure and business to thrive in, even going so far as to dismiss women with whom he is finished seeing. Reynolds’ newfound love and ward, Alma, however may have her own part to play in this this tired routine.
Without a cinematographer, PTA expands his technical prowess working ever more closely with his camera team from films previously. Unfortunately, Robert Elswit, his usual partner, was unavailable. While we ponder as to what incredible imagery Mr. Elswit could have brought to the table, PTA and co. do not leave us wanting. Every frame is artfully staged; charged with the positively electric chemistry from Reynolds and his new lover (Krieps) and yet chilled with the icy coldness of Cyril, his sister, always on guard. From the countryside estate to dim dinner parties, we see the most vulnerable and most performative aspects of each character and every shade in between.
Mr. Anderson’s script is surprisingly funny. Longtime fans will tune into his dry humor very quickly finding much to love in this deliciously witty film. The humor and more assuredly the romance are laid on just enough and in the right ratios to create a mesmerizing dramatic balance, as if you can never tell what anyone is about to say or do because TRUST ME, you can’t.
As expected, Daniel Day-Lewis gives an astonishing performance. While a less striking appearance, it is no less remarkable in how simply he plays this man of routine. With each sip of tea, stroke of the pen, and cut of fabric, we see this man and all of his faults and all of his desires. Going toe to with him is Vicky Krieps as Alma. Delivering each line, like she’s laying it our feet, or perhaps, Reynolds’ feet for judgment. She is the perfect companion to a man of specific taste. It is her empowerment that threatens their very union, and yet she discovers a remarkable sense of composure that if overplayed could have thrown off the film, but Krieps is so subtle and gentle, perhaps as the balm to Reynold’s temper. While Mr. Lewis will receive all the buzz for a worthy performance and potentially (if not for certain) his last role, Ms. Krieps should not be overlooked.
Jonny Greenwood, after three previous scores with PTA, has reached his peak. This is his most romantic score featuring waves of gorgeous strings and striking piano; it is the perfect accompaniment to what unfolds on screen. While his most traditionally orchestrated, it is no less unique or arresting than the pulsing beats of Inherent Vice or the shrieking violins of There Will Be Blood. This particular score stands apart in how well it distills the essence of Reynolds’ and Alma’s particularly unique love perfectly. Be ready to seek out the album as soon as you exit the theater.
While a last minute addition to last year’s releases, Phantom Thread stands as one of 2017’s best and is a worthy addition to Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography. Be sure to check out the Director’s Guild Podcast for the episode in which Rian Johnson, director of a small indie space film, interviews PTA about the making of this film. In addition, PTA was a recent guest on Bill Simmons’ podcast, so check that out as well
Phantom Thread is now playing at the Belcourt here in Nashville.