Movie Review: Phantom Thread

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Movie Review: Phantom Thread

Watching Daniel Day Lewis slip into another person’s skin for the last time isn’t enough to elevate Phantom Thread into being worth your while.

In my review of the very worth your while Dunkirk I noted that it seems obligatory for the Oscars to have a war movie in their Best Film category. They also seem to use Best Film to give out lifetime achievement awards. Phantom Thread, to my mind, is this year’s version of that. While the acting is superb, the movie just isn’t anything special.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) is a fastidious, self-absorbed man. He just so happens to be the best dress maker in London, an accolade that allows him to get away with his moody, verbally abusive behavior. A confirmed bachelor, Woodcock uses and discards women cyclically, abandoning his “muses” as soon as they give him what he needs. This cycle is interrupted when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) while on one of his muse-hunting holidays. A tenacious woman with very little in the way of scruples, she forms a symbiosis with Woodcock that masquerades as love.

Phantom Thread
“You need a dress, we are going to begin our dance.”

Character Driven

Phantom Thread is all about the relationship between Reynolds, Alma, and Reynolds’ sister Cyril (Leslie Manville). Cyril manages her mercurial brother in both his professional and personal life, and functions almost as a de facto wife and mother while Reynolds goes through his manic/depressive cycles.¬†Reynolds’ muses never breach that duality until Alma. As the relationship progresses, Alma slowly yanks that circle into a triangle.

Phantom Thread
This mouth rarely opens, but when it does you’ll need a hazmat suit.

All three characters are superbly acted. Daniel Day Lewis once again assumes a new persona like others assume a new set of clothes. His eccentric, fastidious, and often tedious Mr. Woodcock is fully realized, a jumble of John Malkovich moodiness and Cristoph Waltz charm.

Leslie Manville was my favorite; Cyril manages Reynolds, but never dotes on him. For all his verbal posturing, watching her put him in his place with her razor-wire tongue was wickedly delightful. If this film did anything, it was to inspire me to watch other films Manville has been in.

Lastly, their is Vicki Krieps. Her Alma is both real and surreal. You instantly sympathize with her wants and needs, and how she willingly engages with the emotionally abusive Woodcock to satisfy them. She also channels Kathy Bates in Misery, and does the smothering fanatic very convincingly.

It Is Now My Duty to Completely Drain You

Reynolds Woodcock is an emotional vampire. He burns through the inspiration of his muse to propel his next masterwork, goes into a funk, ditches the woman and embarks on a restorative holiday while searching for his next unwitting victim. He’s also a spoiled brat. He expects the world to operate on his terms, and he pouts and lashes out verbally when that expectation isn’t met.

Phantom Thread
“Come inside, I’ve made ‘veloute de champignons’, your favorite.”

Alma on the other hand desires Reynolds when he is in his needy, depressive funks. She has developed a rather unique way of breaking his mania that I will leave for you to discover. This cycle of Reynolds devouring Alma in his mania and Alma devouring Reynolds in his depression form the basis of this “love story”. As such, I think many are going to be off-put by this film. I was.

Competent but not Special

Phantom Thread
Going nowhere in style.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted amazing works before. From Boogie Nights to There Will Be Blood, he has shown a strong ability to evoke time and place, and an ability to wow with the little things. While we get a strong feeling for 1950’s Europe and European High Society in this film, there wasn’t any wow factor for me in this film. I even felt jarred a few times by tricks that I caught going nowhere. The shots of Reynolds driving are heavily stylized, but for no discernible reason other than to add a different camera trick. Likewise a wash of snowflakes that transitions a scene set in the alps also left me scratching my head. What was the point?

This film feels like it wants to be more important than its plot warrants. Phantom Thread feels like one of those film school projects that abdicates deeper meaning and imagery in favor of “it is what you take out of it”. I don’t want my films to do my thinking for me, but I can also smell when I’m being asked to do the director’s work for him.

We’ve seen films about the beautiful people of this time and place before; nothing in Phantom Thread elevates it beyond what has come before it.

And The Winner Goes To…

Phantom Thread
A special thank you to the Flagship Cinemas in Wells, Maine.

…This Chair! Two things kept me from walking out of this film at the 1 hour and 1:40 minute mark. The acting was great, and my respect for Daniel Day Lewis kept me the first time. The second time the sheer comfort of this wonderful reclining chair had me stick out the final half hour. Neither the plot nor the cinematography was doing anything for me. If this film wins, they might as well give it directly to Daniel Day Lewis, because it will be a Best Actor award in a Best Film dress.

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