Phantom Thread Review
It almost feels unfair how easily Paul Thomas Anderson seduces you into his latest creation. With your eyes feasting on the gorgeous set design and your ears consumed by Jonny Greenwood's luscious score, PTA has you under his spell before the opening sequence is half finished. His meticulous style of filmmaking is worthy of the craft and precision that underpins the fashion industry his film indulges itself in, and his exacting control feeds through into the themes and characteristics of the lives he sketches onscreen.
Phantom Thread could mark the closing of a trilogy of dysfunctional love stories created by Anderson. Daniel Plainview was destroyed by his adoration for money in There Will Be Blood, Dodd and Freddie's symbiotic need threatened each other's worlds in The Master and pulsating, possessive control courses through the veins of Phantom Thread. It remains a deceivingly simple film that focusses on the developing relationship between a world famous fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), and the latest young woman to capture his attention, Alma (Vicky Krieps). A heavy accent should be placed on 'latest’ because as Reynolds' older sister and assistant Cyril (Lesley Manville) knows, over the years a never-ending stream of Almas have sat across from her at the breakfast table.
Reynolds meets Alma while she works as a waitress at a seaside hotel and it isn’t long before he’s pouring out his heart to say he’s been waiting his whole life to find her. There’s no doubt he means it in the moment but you can almost hear a heavy echo reverberating behind his words. Back at his home-come-studio Reynolds is an artist who works to routine with everything managed by Cyril to pamper his creative ego. Disturbing the flow or rhythm of his day quickly draws out his temper and it's a side which Alma is eager to avoid at first but equally unprepared to forget. A head-on collision seems inevitable with one obvious casualty but a strange bond develops that makes their lives inextricably intertwined.
As simple as the film appears to be from the outside, like the relationship it studies the layers deepen with every scene. What goes on behind closed doors is never understood by those standing on the other side. The same can be said for those involved in any unorthodox relationship as words have their limitations when it comes to affairs of the heart. Trying to figure out what keeps Reynolds and Alma together is the magnetic force that pulls us deeper into their beguiling sphere. They continue to draw things out of each other neither knew existed to mould a swaying amalgamation of control and emotion. It’s as unhealthy as it is essential to survive around each other and it creates a unique arrangement that wouldn’t make sense between any other couple.
In preparation for the role Daniel Day-Lewis spent a whole year working alongside the head of the costume department at the New York City Ballet learning how to make a Balenciaga dress from scratch. It’s a level of intensity we've become accustomed to but his performance is more muted and quieter than those that have seen him reach the pinnacle of his trade. His physical presence is still as commanding and a softer tone of voice creates a character with his own place in history. Yet, it is Krieps and perhaps even Manville who steal his thunder. While Alma is locked in a psychological tussle for control with her other half it is the presence of Cyril who glues it all together, and deep down Reynolds knows it. Much like the debt he feels is owed to a mother who passed on many years ago.
The spirts of ghosts past, present and future linger in the air, sometimes even crossing each others paths, mixed with the fear of mythical curses that extend from Reynolds' creative soul. Food and all it represents plays a crucial role too, with the breakfast table taking centre stage and Reynolds' appetite fluctuating as dramatically as his temperament. The cryptic meaning behind the films many themes are waiting to be unpicked once we begin to look beyond the Rebecca-style construction of the dynamics in the House of Woodcock.
Jonny Greenwood returns to work with Anderson and once again it's a combination that brings out the best in the Radiohead guitarist. His work on There Will Be Blood was viscerally powerful and his gorgeous compositions constantly breeze across the film, the playful tones of the piano and sweeping strings adding an entirely new dimension to the exquisite couture garments shown on screen. One small issue to raise is the stumbling over two or three opportunities to end at the right moment which subsequently adds weight to the runtime. Regardless, the film stays in the mind long after you have left the screen behind simply because Anderson has hand-stitched together a story effortlessly tailored to find the right fit.