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Phantom Thread – Movie Review

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Phantom Thread – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Nobody can accuse Paul Thomas Anderson of making the same film twice. While his eight film career can be divided into two parts, there is still a distinct difference in themes and stories within his work. Phantom Thread represents a curious dive into an otherwise unremarkable subject: a fashion designer. Yet it becomes more about his muse and the danger of believing your own genius than merely watching Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock make clothes. The deliberate pace can be off-putting and dry to a fault, but there is still a good amount to appreciate on-screen in this tale of hubris.

Anderson directs Phantom Thread with an eye on the costumes and seeking to draw us in, thematically. There is a definite influence from period dramas that showcase the coldness of the high society world. One can certainly see a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon within the film’s frames. At times, the pacing can be a bit maddening in its purposeful slowness. Anderson wants to achieve a certain sophistication, alongside a dryness which permeates from the screen. This include Day-Lewis’s performance, which emphasizes glances, a good amount of those annoyed side-eyes at those around him. Anderson and Day-Lewis somehow manage to gain some humour out of how his muse eats her toast on the breakfast table. It is little moments like those that break the dry nature of the film.

With Vicky Krieps’s newlywed wife and Lesley Manville’s commanding sister, Anderson clearly sees the women as the driving force of the entire operation. They provide the necessary kick in the pants to stop Woodcock from believing his own brilliance and the ones who keep him continually in check. Both actresses even up out-classing Day-Lewis in their performances. They are able to bring a certain amount of life to the dryness that overflows through almost every frame. Even as everyone is holding a lot of their emotions in, the ticking clocks are evident. As previously mentioned, the few smatterings of humour come from the way they disrupt Woodcock’s seemingly perfect world.

A necessary component of Phantom Thread is the visual element. Mark Bridges’s costumes believably look like the type preferred by high society. Anderson doesn’t show a year on the screen and instead presents clues to make us decipher the period setting. The cinematography, reportedly handled by Anderson himself, successfully capture that old-fashioned look. Phantom Thread features multiple shots already fit for the inevitable Criterion cover. The final ingredient which gives the film its classical feel is Jonny Greenwood’s score. His splendid compositions don’t even feel like they were written within the last few years. They are like if they had been dusted off after being stuck in an attic over the centuries.

Phantom Thread is the sort of film a select group of critics will declare a masterpiece. There is a general sophistication that will instantly hit a chord for some. However, its overall dryness can be a detriment on occasion. Paul Thomas Anderson is aiming it at a niche audience. Beyond that, there is a lot to admire here. Yet it is a film that seeks an appreciation more than outright entertainment value. The strengths of Phantom Thread come from its exploration of a man so convinced he is untouchable and the women who force him to realise his own bigheadedness. Anderson has unintentionally made a fitting film for what is currently happening in Hollywood right now. One can imagine many egos being bruised upon seeing themselves in Mr. Woodcock.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison