Review: ‘Phantom Thread’ Charms Its Way Into Your Heart

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.

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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. 

The Top 5 Most Anticipated Movies of December Not Named Star Wars

Finally, it’s December.

Finally, it’s December.

Today marks the beginning of December, and in two weeks, hordes of moviegoers and superfans alike will pack multiplexes to see the most anticipated blockbuster tentpole film of the year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While the plot synopsis remains behind closed doors at Disney and Lucasfilm, the big-budget sequel promises to take the franchise into a new direction in terms of aesthetics, evidenced by the introduction of several new creatures like the Porg race of birds and the Crystal Fox and a vibrant visual style unique to the Star Wars franchise.  I am as excited as everyone else to see what paths that director Rian Johnson sends Finn and Rey down on their adventures in a galaxy far, far away, but there’s a lot to come out this month that could potentially get lost in the shuffle while The Last Jedi breaks box office records, so this list exists to shine a light on a handful of films that I personally am looking forward to for the month of December not under the ‘Star Wars’ banner.

DISCLAIMER: The Disaster Artist would be on this list if I hadn’t already seen it. However, readers should expect a 615 Film group review of James Franco’s hilarious and endearing Oscar contender within the coming week! Also, while a lot of the Oscar contenders do look fantastic (Hostiles, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name, to name a few) and are slated to have an official release somewhere in the country this month, they don’t open near the area this site is based in until January at the earliest, so I will admit I did have to limit myself to films that had a more guaranteed release date.


 

5. Ferdinand (dir. Carlos Saldanha, releases December 15th)

After how well The Peanuts Movie was handled with its high-spirited tone, dedication to the source material and heartwarming message at its center, I must admit I have a soft spot for Blue Sky Studios. Based on the classic 1930s children’s book, their newest film, Ferdinand, follows the titular bull who would rather smell flowers and be kind to the people and animals in his village rather than live up to what’s he’s bred for as a fighting bull. From what’s been shown in the trailers, it could fall victim to its familiar story and referential gags, but its sense of humor looks to include clever visual gags and misdirects, and it’s being sold as an inspirational tale about becoming who you’re meant to be that’s told in such a heartfelt way. Plus, John Cena lends his voice to the lead role of Ferdinand, and it just gets more and more fun to watch his career transition from professional wrestler to comedic actor.


 

4. Downsizing (dir. Alexander Payne, releases December 22nd)

Between The Descendants and Nebraska, Alexander Payne has been on a roll as of late, and this year, he comes out with a Charlie Kaufman-esque film that takes place in a world where scientists have solved the overpopulation crisis by discovering the ability to shrink humans to microscopic size and live with sustainable health and major financial benefits. Matt Damon plays a mild-mannered middle class husband who decides to undergo the procedure with a handful of people, and its this ensemble that the film follows as they live their new lives of luxury in the community of Leisureland. The film has an attractive cast that includes the likes of Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Wiig, Neil Patrick Harris and Hong Chau in what could be a breakout role, and at the heart of its intriguing concept looks to be a smart commentary about why and how people fall victim to the social trends of today, and why they may not be worth pursuing despite looking beautiful on the surface.


 

3. I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie, releases December 8th)

I’m the kind of guy who admittedly flocks to movies set in this time period with this subject matter, having grown up in the nineties and being an avid watcher of all things sports. That being said, I only knew fragments of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan friendship-turned-feud at the time the saga made national news, other than the infamous clip of Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) wailing, “Why?”, in agony after her knee was injured at the hands of an assault by the hilariously named Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). But in I, Tonya, they are supporting players as the movie looks to follow Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) on her rise toward the top of the professional figure skating world up to those fateful Winter Olympics in 1994, all while portraying her turbulent relationship with her harsh, overbearing mother (Allison Janney). From its technique of breaking the fourth wall and dark sense of humor showcased in the trailer, this looks to be another unsettling but creative success from Neon Studios, and a film that will deservedly garner awards consideration for both Robbie and Janney.


 

2. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo Del Toro, releases December 15th)

Following the gothic romance Crimson Peak, Del Toro returns with another sci-fi/fantasy fairy tale, this time set during the Cold War and taking place inside a government laboratory, where a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) comes to discover a humanoid fish creature (Doug Jones, in a motion-captured performance) being experimented on by the scientists that work there. Through their inability to speak, Elisa and the creature form an unlikely bond as a government official (Michael Shannon) intervenes, ordering more torturous experiments on the creature, prompting Elisa to try to help it escape with violent results. Where The Shape of Water looks so fresh is the romance at its center; to tell a love story between two characters without a line of dialogue will speak volumes of Del Toro as a visual storyteller as well as the acting ability of Hawkins and Jones. Add the cinematography and art direction to it as it captures the mystery of the laboratory and the allure of water no matter if it’s rain or the atmosphere of the creature’s living space, and you have what looks like one of the most beautiful movies of the year.


 

1. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, releases December 25th)

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite contemporary directors, and his reteaming with Daniel Day-Lewis after the excellent There Will Be Blood has all the potential to be something spectacular. Set in the world of 1950s fashion in the United Kingdom, Day-Lewis plays renowned clothing designer Reynolds Woodcock, who makes a muse out of the woman he falls in love with until their relationship takes a turn for the tumultuous. In a piece about the trailer written earlier this year, I described my anxieties over how the film would be promoted come awards season, but early word on Phantom Thread has been stellar across the board, being named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, who also gave it the award for Best Original Screenplay. This bodes well for Anderson, who after the decent but underwhelming Inherent Vice, looks to have put something at the center of Phantom Thread that will erode the relationship between his main players while turning the expectations of audiences on their heads, as he has throughout his career. Add the usual elements of the auteur’s aesthetic to it, from the authentic but unsettling score by Jonny Greenwood to cinematography that isolates his characters in large, wide frames before trapping them in close-ups, and you have a period piece unlike any others in the genre. I am more excited than ever to see Anderson return to form on Christmas Day, and watch Daniel Day-Lewis conclude his acting career with a phenomenal performance in what should be a phenomenal movie.

New Trailer: Will Daniel Day-Lewis Go Out on a High Note with ‘Phantom Thread’?

Phantom Thread marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s return with what looks like a conventional period piece with unconventional characters, and a story that could take unexpected turns.

Phantom Thread marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s return with what looks like a conventional period piece with unconventional characters, and a story that could take unexpected turns.

After months of speculation, impatience and even the lack of a title, Focus Features finally released the trailer for Phantom Thread, the new film from writer-director auteur, Paul Thomas Anderson, and it came to mixed reactions. Some circles of the internet reacted with excitement over another collaboration between Anderson and three-time Academy Award winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, who worked together previously on There Will Be Blood. However, others remained skeptical after viewing the trailer, and for good reason: not only did Anderson’s previous film, Inherent Vice, receive divisive reactions from both critics and audiences during awards season in 2014, but the trailer for Phantom Thread leaves a lot to be desired. . .but from a certain aspect, that could lead to a beneficial payoff once the film hits theaters.

When Phantom Thread was first announced in the middle of 2015, all we knew about it was that it starred Daniel Day-Lewis and took place in the world of fashion in the 1950s. But the trailer gives us a bigger glimpse into the film’s story: it begins with his character, Reynolds Woodcock, narrating about how he always sews a personal secret into every coat, dress, and garment he makes over a montage of him carrying out his daily routine as a high-fashion designer in the United Kingdom as elegant yet provocative music plays. The intrigue only grows as a waitress named Alma (played by Vicky Krieps) catches his eye at a restaurant he visits; so much so, that he asks her to have dinner with him, which she agrees to after some hesitation. From there, the trailer shows Alma becoming a muse for Reynolds’ work as well as his mistress, and implies a turn for the dramatic through images of Reynolds looking voyeuristically through the peephole of a door, a car speeding down a long road, and arguments Alma and Reynolds have as their relationship erodes, to name a few. All of this happens while the strings of Jonny Greenwood’s score grow more and more unsettling with every pluck.

On the surface of its trailer, Phantom Thread does look like another typical period drama. The costume and set design are lavish and on another level of authenticity, the story centers around a romance, and its main selling point is a performance from arguably the greatest living actor of our time, and is in this case, apparently his last (although it is worth mentioning he said that after the release of Gangs of New York in 2002, but that’s another topic for another day). It also implies all the conventions of any film from Paul Thomas Anderson: a story with emotional stakes driven by complex but flawed characters, immaculate attention to detail of the film’s time period, and a camera that never stops moving unless on a close-up. It’s worth noting that Anderson himself is his own director of photography this time around; such a task is daunting on paper, but it’s exciting to see a director perform dual roles on his own film set, because it’s evidence of his passion for the material.

But the primary reason why I have more optimism about Phantom Thread as a movie is because Anderson has been known to take his films on surprising turns that throw the expectations of audiences onto their head; the ending of Boogie Nights changed the way people listen to Rick Springfield, the climax of Magnolia was something nobody saw coming, and I still remember how I reacted to the revelation toward the end of There Will Be Blood. Meanwhile, so much of The Master was from the perspective of its PTSD-stricken lead character, it can be argued that at certain points it became hard to tell what scenes were real and what weren’t. Plus, the trailer for Phantom Thread sells a lot of mystery about Day-Lewis’s character: why isn’t he married, why does he feel cursed, and what is it that drives him into almost-paranoid obsession? There’s a plethora of directions that this story could take, and even after the good but underwhelming Inherent Vice, I have faith that Paul Thomas Anderson will come back with something that’ll leave everyone speechless.

All this being said, after pretty much ten months of not even a production still, the possibility still remains that Phantom Thread could end up getting rushed into its release on Christmas Day this year just so Focus Features has a perennial contender for this year’s awards season, and that is my biggest worry. It’s not uncommon, either: Paramount put Martin Scorsese’s passion project Silence through this exact scenario last year with little to no marketing or advertising, and it resulted in great reviews, but poor box office and only one Oscar nomination. I would hope that Focus Features wouldn’t do that to one of the most established auteurs in filmmaking right now as an independent film distributor, but all I can suggest to how they handle Phantom Thread is Alma’s final quote from the trailer: “Whatever you do, do it carefully.”