Whenever you enter a Paul Thomas Anderson film it is beneficial to know that his films are heavily character driven; how each character will interact with one another is at the root of his stories and Phantom Thread is absolutely no exception;
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson Phantom Thread follows the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) a master dressmaker living alongside his uncompromisingly stubborn sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Woodcock meets a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) and their unusual relationship evolves into something complex.
This story is driven by the relationship between the two leads, Woodcock is a meticulous man with extremely specific needs and tendencies, a borderline perfectionist and sociopath. Alma is a sweet young woman with a sense of caution at heart – she is proactive in her decision-making, sarcastic in character, and will stop at nothing to take control – these traits being almost everything that Woodcock tends to despise in a woman. As the story moves forward we come to realize that it is centred on how violently the personalities of Woodcock and Alma clash – they both loathe each other’s presence and thrive on it simultaneously. The relationship twists and turns as each tries to gain control, until they begin to form a toxic co-dependence that continually exacerbates.
Very little of this film is based on the premise of dressmaking itself, it is used more as a vessel for the story to be told through. Though we get some fantastic themes of Alma being objectified in her truest form; she is almost immediately admired as a figure to be dressed in beautiful garments than a person to be understood. The incorporation of Woodcock’s sister Cyril further created tension, she has an even harsher temperament than Woodcock, acting as both a matriarch and emotional caretaker for her brother, almost personifying a hardened mother figure. Evidently this film will not be for everyone, the slow pace and gradual character development will certainly take a toll on viewers less interested and less intent of waiting at length for the story to unravel.
The two leads fuse together flawlessly; Day-Lewis pours pure authenticity into the role of Woodcock, the subtle femininity mixed with an unmistakable masculine demeanour makes his character both emotionally vulnerable and unpredictably intimidating; he exudes a sense of delicacy while remaining distinctively in charge. Alma, played by Vicky Krieps is soft-spoken and displays a beautiful array of emotions throughout her performance, she manages to parallel Day-Lewis in more than a few aspects all the while remaining true and consistent to her character throughout. Lesley Manville portraying the sister Cyril is reserved, strong willed, and quick to temper all at once – a fantastic supporting role but is sadly not given enough screen time for my liking, having her more fleshed-out would have certainly helped to satiate my urge to see more.
This pacing of this film flowed smoothly and delicately leaving one time to absorb each character interaction and take those moments into consideration. Paul Thomas Anderson utilised the camera in extremely intimate ways, focusing on extreme close-ups and forcing the audience to see the subtle facial twitches and emotional turns each character was going through. The entire film was accompanied by fantastic lighting, from real candle-lit sequences, to daylit rooms, the lighting truly reflected tone and emotion in multiple ways. The costuming is where the technical features of this film are in the vein of excellence – from fantastically vintage dresses to intricate and softly detailed extravagant works of wearable art, this is without a doubt some of the best costuming in recent memory. Finally, the music, these vibrant pieces of classical music move in and out of scenes in a soft and divine manner creating a distinctive theme for Woodcock and the spiraling and complex relationship he has with Alma; I can’t praise the music enough in this film.
This film will not be for everyone, it has one of the slower paces of the films of 2017, though patient audiences will be rewarded with a story that is as complex as the characters within it. Paul Thomas Anderson further proves he is a genius of character writing and can bring forth magnificent works of acting through his talented cast. With decadent detail, multifaceted characters, and a near seamless pace as smooth as silk – Phantom Thread captures the strife of two intensely different individuals battling for a warped coexistence together.