Paul Thomas Anderson’s got a knack for writing some of the most original dramas on either side of the century.
Anderson’s films always feel eerily intimate and personal with a certain manic lace running beneath the covers. From Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charismatic cultist in “The Master” to Adam Sandler’s shockingly good performance in “Punch-drunk Love,” Anderson is a master at crafting and directing character-driven films.
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is Anderson’s newest nut to crack in “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis plays the part of a brilliant but petulant fashion designer in 1950s London. In partnership with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), Reynolds is renowned across the world for his beautiful dresses but cannot seem to escape a haunting loneliness he has felt since the death of his mother. After firing another one of his fashion model lovers, Reynolds is stricken by the country allure of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a quiet, pretty waitress.
“Phantom Thread” is a fully character-driven piece. The narrative is parse, consisting of scenes stitched together in a slow but methodical way. Character interaction is the crux of the film and between Reynolds’ uptight temperament and Alma’s growing conviction, their relationship is a whirlwind to behold. The isolated creepiness of the piano making up the film’s entire score pairs brilliantly with the bubbling strains between Reynolds and Alma.
The film clocks in at ten minutes over two hours and it gets exhausting to watch by the second half. Seeing Reynolds and Alma fight, reconcile, then repeat is played out across many different scenarios, but it’s ultimately the same thing happening again and again, and it begins to show. The movie slowly lost my attention and barely snatched it back within the last half hour.
Granted the tension and the evolution of the pair’s relationship is what matters. The film wouldn’t work without the two, and Day-Lewis and Krieps are great in their respective roles. And while Day-Lewis gives a final performance worthy of his — supposed — retirement, Krieps manages to edge out her co-star with an unnervingly reserved performance as Alma.
That’s nothing to say of the gorgeous dresses couture made for the film. Mark Bridges’ dresses are an abundant array of the most beautiful costume-work of 2017 and will no doubt be in contention for the best of the awards season.
“Phantom Thread” is a good, if somewhat inaccessible film. While boasting some excellent performances and delivering another one of P.T. Anderson’s great directorial visions, it’s slowly, perhaps frustratingly paced and will most likely only please the more fervent movie-goer.
Hector Valverede is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.