‘Phantom Thread’ weaves tale of toxic love



Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps star in “Phantom Thread,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

The obsessive impulses that arise out of the often toxic intersection of artistry and affection are at the forefront in “Phantom Thread,” the new drama directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”).

Set in the couture culture of 1950s London, “Phantom Thread” follows revered dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) as his neurotic preoccupations begin to unravel in an unexpected romance with waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps).

In what has been widely promoted as his final film role, Day-Lewis delivers a characteristically committed performance in Anderson’s latest masterwork, which also offers a beautifully penned screenplay, mesmerizing direction and a haunting score by Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood.

All told, “Phantom Thread” stands tall among Anderson’s already impressive oeuvre as a remarkably poignant and deliciously devious melodrama.

Directing: 5/5

Notwithstanding a supremely talented cast and an enormously satisfying screenplay at its core, “Phantom Thread” also boasts some of Anderson’s most assured direction yet.

This film, to be sure, feels like a culmination of sorts for Anderson, who employs many of the directorial tools that he has used to such great effect throughout his career.

Whether it be the seemingly endless tracking shots from “Magnolia,” the unflinchingly intimate close-ups from “The Master” or the imposing establishing shots from “There Will Be Blood,” Anderson stitches together a veritable patchwork of immediately arresting visuals and meticulously crafted compositions.

In addition, “Phantom Thread” features some truly astonishing cinematography. Indeed, the use of light to introduce shadows and accentuate details results in a uniquely tactile experience.

Everything from the soft caresses on a finely woven fabric to a sizzling omelet homogenizing inside a metal skillet are so masterfully captured on film that the image seems to crackle with even the most minute camera movement.

In short, “Phantom Thread” is a richly textured film, and, fortunately, this visual depth is seamlessly matched by an equally intricate story.

Writing: 5/5

Much like the multilayered garments that Woodcock crafts with such earnest precision, Anderson constructs a deeply complex character study that posits questions related to artistry, obsession and love itself.

“Phantom Thread” doesn’t ever rely on the formulaic expectations of conventional character-driven dramas. Instead, Anderson makes the radical decision to duplicate the traditionally singular point of dissection present in most character studies by offering a dual perspective of the film’s central romance.

In other words, Alma and Woodcock are positioned as equals in terms of their importance to the film’s core plot and thematic explorations. After all, the film’s twisting narrative does unfold from Alma’s perspective as she recalls her troubled relationship with Woodcock.

By exploring the inner turmoil and damaged psyches of both characters, Anderson creates a multifaceted viewpoint of introspection (through Alma’s own self-reflection) and outward perception (by way of Alma’s removed analysis of Woodcock’s obsessive nature).

Lastly, considerable praise should also be directed towards the film’s dialogue and Anderson’s ability to weave an incredible amount of dramatic tension into even the most seemingly banal conversations.

Acting: 5/5

Anderson has made a career out of eliciting career-best performances from an array of talented actors, and the cast of “Phantom Thread” is no different.

Day-Lewis’ excellent work in the film is not all that surprising, given the man’s extraordinary resume. However, what sets Day-Lewis’ turn as Reynolds Woodcock apart from the legendary actor’s previous roles is the uncompromising vulnerability his character exhibits.

Although Woodcock often comes across as distant and impenetrable on the surface, he is also undeniably human, as Day-Lewis so effectively conveys through moments of unexpected warmth amidst a sea of cold, emotional detachment.

If the rumors of Day-Lewis’ retirement are true, then his transformation into the refreshingly flawed Reynolds Woodcock is a fitting cap to his inimitable career.

Lesley Manville also deserves praise as Cyril Woodcock, Reynold’s pragmatic sister, who commands attention despite an expertly restrained portrayal.

In lieu of the violent and sudden outbursts that constitute much of the film’s central romance, Manville leaves her mark through pointedly delivered declarations that speak volumes by way of their quiet truth.

Finally, Vicky Krieps remains the film’s most pleasant surprise, as the relatively unknown Luxembourger actress fully commits to the endlessly complicated Alma — nearly upstaging the supposedly incomparable Day-Lewis in the process.

At once demure and deceitful, Krieps’ fascinating turn as Alma perfectly encapsulates the dual nature of not only the film’s narrative, but of the continual imbalance that characterizes the human experience. 

Overall: 5/5

“Phantom Thread” is an unceasingly thought-provoking character study that dares to redefine commonly accepted notions of love and self-sacrifice.

Featuring evocative direction, an emotionally complex screenplay and powerfully potent performances, “Phantom Thread” is an elegantly dressed melodrama that ultimately subverts all expectations by allowing its central romance to beautifully fall apart at the seams.