Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is utterly exquisite. Each and every aspect of the film is delicate and full of subtext. I loved being given characters who spoke in both direct and indirect ways; I loved a constant atmosphere that had me wanting to relax into the slow, inviting surroundings. This was an experience that I felt I got lost in – that I loved being a part of. I hope I can talk competently about Phantom Thread and how it goes about exploring its characters. So let’s get to the review and see if I have the skill to explore this film adequately.
Set in 1950’s London, we follow renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock – played by Daniel-Day Lewis – as he meets Alma – played by Vicky Krieps – whose strong-willed nature sees her being a formidable love within his life. Their relationship is no ordinary one, and it’s seemingly always full of conflict. But something keeps pulling them towards one another.
There was much that pulled me into Phantom Thread and had me transfixed by its every moment. What captured me first was the alluring atmosphere the film gave out. The film at times had the air of being like the most wonderful dream; one where everything is inviting and comfortable – a place you simply want to exist in. But then at other times it was like an unnerving bad dream, like there was something more sinister lurking ever so slightly in the background. It put me in a state of mind where I was both comforted and happy to be a part of the experience, and then at other times filled with hints of dread; not knowing if something awful was about to happen.
What I think really helped (and sometimes hindered) these feelings, was the score by Jonny Greenwood. It’s a score that almost never leaves the films side. Nearly every scene is accompanied by music – music that heightened the effects the film elicited. For the most part, I loved the use of music in the film, and there was more than one occasion where I felt it perfectly accompanied the scene(s) it was being used in. But there were moments where I found it to be intrusive; barging its way into a moment where it wasn’t necessary. It would almost overtake the scene and detract from what the actors (and the rest of the film) was doing.
You see, Phantom Thread could best be described as: subtle. It’s a very slow, very deliberate film that never rushes and always lets things play out in their own way – at a speed it feels is appropriate. So sometimes I felt the music undercut that; colliding with the tone of the moment. I still enjoyed the score for the most part and I know it’s one I’ll find myself dipping back into from time to time – but still, it nagged at me.
Bringing back the point about subtlety being the primary word that comes to mind when thinking about this film, I have to talk about how the films looks. This isn’t a flashy film – scenes will not pop out at you constantly and have you in a constant state of feeling wowed. It’s more… subtle. The camera moves about the scene in a very considerate, composed way – and what it is moving about are locations that are understated but fitting for the film. The film had a look to it that I found to be… peaceful.
But I do think that in the films pacing is where some people will struggle with the film. It’s very slow, very quiet and doesn’t ever approach anything in an overtly exciting way. You need to be prepared for a film that is much more subdued in its approach. I personally saw 1 or 2 people leave during the film, never to return. For me, the film moved at the exact pace and in the exact way it needed too (plus I’m very accustomed at this point with the unconventional approach of director, Paul Thomas Anderson) so I was more than happy to let the experience of the film take over and guide me through everything it had to offer in the way it wanted too.
So I was pulled in my an atmosphere that I found alluring, and once it had brought me in, it was of course the characters that I then wanted to spend as much time with as I possibly could. And of course, the one I was initially eager to see was: Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis). Though it’s really sad that Daniel-Day Lewis has decided to retire from acting (with this being his final performance) it is fulfilling to see him go out with such a brilliant performance. He brings such a quiet power to every scene he’s in. There’s a force that emanates from him; it’s more potent when he’s verbally tearing someone down – but even in moments of silence he’s able to command a room with a disapproving look.
Purely from a performance standpoint, Daniel-Day Lewis is an unavoidable presence within the film that I always wanted more of – and the film was happy to give as much over as I could have hoped for. And the character of Reynolds Woodcock is a fascinating one. He’s a very, very particular man whose routines are unbreakable, and expectations are unmeetable. Though he isn’t someone I would want to spend time with – one-to-one – he was someone I was forever invested in seeing more of. As an individual, he offers much.
But this isn’t a solo event – there are at least two other primary people in his life and neither of them are ready to put up with his nonsense. Alma (Vicky Krieps) seems to be the first lover that is able to stand up to Reynolds and give it back as good as he doles it out. They were two people whose relationship I didn’t think could ever work (at first) as the constant conflict between the two of them made them seem like a relationship that was doomed to fail, but something was keeping them together and that something kept me wanting to experience more of these two strong individuals.
Some of the best scenes between Reynolds and Alma were the ones in which they were fighting. Whether it was a small fight where they were taking little pot shots at one another, or large fights where clubs were at the ready and nothing would be held back – there was always something so exhilarating and juicy to watching them tear at one another. In a weird sort of way, I derived emotional pleasure from watching them not hold back and say it how it was. And it’s also a testament to the two performances by Daniel-Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps as they have an intoxicating chemistry. There’s something almost obsessive inducing about watching the two of them together – both when they are loving one another intently and snapping at one another viciously.
In the middle of the two of them was a fantastic character/performance: Cyril – played by Lesley Manville – is a scene stealer in the film. She has some of the best lines – lines that cut through the bullshit of Reynolds or put Alma in her place. It’s a performance that was gravitational, because even in scenes where you had Daniel-Day Lewis – one of the greatest actors to have ever lived – it was Cyril who would win the argument and Lesley Manville who would win the scene – and get a hearty chuckle from me. Which was something the film garnered often: hearty chuckles. Despite this being a very emotionally turbulent film, it still found the time to get me and the audience around me laughing; which I think helps to break up the primarily intense tone that the film has.
Phantom Thread was a film that I was so very happy to just settle into and let the masochistic joy of it all, consume me. Three primary characters who never held back – whose cutting words chimed throughout the film and left a visible mark. A love between two people who seemed odd but wholly alluring, and a style and atmosphere that I found to be subtle in its beauty. The film certainly won’t be for everyone; it’s slow pace and unconventional approach will undoubtedly turn some away. But for me it was everything I wanted from a Paul Thomas Anderson film, and more.
I absolutely recommend, Phantom Thread. If you’re a fan of his work, then this is quintessential Paul Thomas Anderson. And if you’re interested in seeing Daniel-Day Lewis in his final on-screen performance, then you won’t be disappointed. I hope you enjoy this film as much as I did – I was discreetly smiling throughout and loved every second of it.
I’d love to know what you thought of Phantom Thread and my review of it, so please leave any opinions, feedback, etc. in the comments section down below. I’d also appreciate it if you would consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll finish up now and end by saying thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to return.