IGN
Phantom Thread Review

Dec 7

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There’s no business like sew business.

For over 20 years now, director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have been obsessed with the eternal conflict between order and chaos. His films are about people struggling within, and against, the confines of their culture, their industry, their expectations, and either busting through those walls or watching as the walls close in on them.

Dirk Diggler strives for greatness within an ailing pornographic industry. Barry Egan desperately flails against the oppression of his overbearing family circle. Daniel Plainview balances the demands of religious leaders to ensure his capitalistic success. The list goes on and on and now it continues with Phantom Thread, a fussy control freak fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock, and a model named Alma.

Reynolds Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is a world-renowned dressmaker living in London in the 1950s. His life is rigidly structured. No loud noises. No confrontations of any kind until after breakfast. His employees and, indeed, the world at large give him every concession because he needs the widest berth possible to produce his fineries. And his fineries are so very, very fine that it’s worth the bother of putting up with all his selfish pickiness.

Paul Thomas Anderson is, himself, a very fastidious director. His camerawork, his musical choices, his sound design, none of his accomplishments (for better or worse) ever feel accidental. So it’s no surprise that Anderson indulges in Reynolds Woodcock’s glossy sheen and carefully plotted lifestyle. He recreates a world of high fashion and meticulous design, in all the aesthetic glory and, perhaps, the frustrating shallowness that comes along with it. It’s intoxicating to say the least.

But Phantom Thread is equally the story of Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. Alma is a young woman enlisted by Reynolds Woodcock to be his latest muse. She is plucked from the corner of his eye at a bed and breakfast, lured back to his enclave, and transformed into his latest showpiece. She inspires his designs and immediately becomes a part of them, and she loves Reynolds for his affection and offers him her fealty because of his genius.

And like any sane person would, she starts going mad when she’s forced to live within his persnickety, painstaking, and painful little world for too long.

Phantom Thread is not a film that benefits from a lot explanation. Suffice it to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is once again telling a story about struggling within, and against, rigid expectations and characters who find themselves doing hitherto unbelievable things. Alma is pushed, Reynolds is pushed further, and somehow it all becomes a horrifying, beautiful, disturbing yet weirdly hopeful tale about people who demand control while desperately yearning to be controlled.

It’s hard to say where exactly Phantom Thread is going, at least while it’s going there. Pieces of Anderson’s story seems familiar - the elder artist inspired by a young beauty, the stifling world of high art, the parlor room intrigues that turn into obsessions - and the rest of it feels wholly original. It’s captivating even as it’s off-putting, just like Woodcock, and again, for better or worse.

In his final film role (he announced his retirement from acting in June), Daniel Day-Lewis gives another masterful performance but for most of Phantom Thread, he’s only telling what his character wants us to know. Which isn’t much. Reynolds Woodcock chooses only to reveal himself through his dresses, and even then mostly through little secret additions that the dresses’ eventual owners know nothing about. Alma’s attempts to peak underneath his veils are futile, met with anger, and only drive her more directly contrive an insidious design of her own. Krieps and Day-Lewis are playing, in some respects, polar opposites. She’s overt with her passions, he’s utterly reserved, but they meet each other in unexpected ways in the middle, and together they’re perplexing and captivating.

All of this is to say that Phantom Thread is fantastic, even though it’s intentionally being difficult. It really is quite frustrating to talk about Phantom Thread without going into details and potentially ruining the experience. Suffice it to say, everything that seems unusual in the moment makes perfect sense after a while, but even then, it may be up to the audience to decide whether Phantom Thread is the greatest or most horrifying movie romance of the year. You won’t know for certain until you see it for yourself, and give it a good, long think afterwards.

The Verdict

Gorgeous and unpredictable, and maybe a little indulgent, Phantom Thread is another fascinating drama from Paul Thomas Anderson, with captivating lead performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.

The Wall

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