Phantom Thread


Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson

At first, it feels as if this is a story about a pompous, controlling, obsessive, despicable, powerful artist who uses up his muses, then tosses them aside like a pair of worn out shoes. And that’s just how this film begins. But it is also the story of one muse who learns how to manipulate this man to her own purpose, and instead of being used up, ends up wielding the real power – so much so, that he becomes complicit in his own subjugation and learns to like and even welcome it.

A trio of actors – Vicki Krieps as the muse Alma, Daniel Day-Lewis as designer Reynolds Woodcock, and Lesley Manville as his sister Cyril who runs the fashion business – give masterful performances of such nuance and depth that this film should be assigned in acting class. As usual, Mr. Day-Lewis is a force to be reckoned with, and if his stated retirement makes this his final acting performance on film, then it’s a beautiful exit.

Mr. Anderson guides these performances, shoots them beautifully, and edits them (with Dylan Tichenor) powerfully. At times the film feels as if it’s about to become a thriller, yet the tension is tempered and preserved with the quietest moments being the strongest. Setting the film in London of the 1950’s, with its class differences and stifled emotions, helps set an oppressive atmosphere and one which Anderson steadily mines for subtextual commentary. Jonny Greenwood’s score is a perfect fit to the various moods.

Even though her methods are morally suspect, we end up rooting for Alma in spite of her extreme measures, and wonder if they are exactly what is called for to deal with Woodcock. He certainly thinks so. One of the year’s best and a Must See.

Relatable Reviews

  • Justin Chang in the LA Times gives it his highest rating and writes eloquently about Anderson’s achievement. “But what finally gives “Phantom Thread” its subversive kick isn’t just its provocative theorizing about the pursuit of genius, the desire for domestic fulfillment and the sacrifices required to balance the two. It’s that Alma, in undertaking her strange, singular mission, is perversely elevated to the standing of an artist in her own right. She becomes this movie’s most sublime creation and the living embodiment of its spirit — triumphant, audacious and impossible to forget.”
  • Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice also rates it the highest. “Phantom Thread unfolds so quietly that the questions it’s asking about the nature of desire and attraction, and its delicately confrontational back and forth between Alma and Reynolds, may not register immediately. Anderson confines much of the action to the modest interiors of Reynolds’s world. His house also serves as his atelier, adding to the claustrophobia and the blurring of lines between life and work. And the whole film has the air of a chamber drama, an intimate and deliberate affair where emotions are played out in hushed whispers and subtle glances. If the director’s earlier films boasted vigorous, look-at-me callouts to the likes of Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick and Elia Kazan, Phantom Thread reminded me of nothing so much as that small handful of muted, mesmerizing chamber dramas Luchino Visconti made in the 1970s in the wake of his stroke.”