Note: This is a spoiler-free Phantom Thread review
If you’re a fan of good film and quality acting, then selfishly the retirement of Daniel Day-Lewis saddens you. Possibly the greatest actor of all time, DDL rarely does movies but nails them every single time. That alone is enough reason to see Phantom Thread. Of course he doesn’t disappoint this time either.
Although pretentious at times, Phantom Thread is a beautifully twisted story featuring three simultaneously brilliant acting performances.
Daniel Day-Lewis is something else folks. He’s probably retiring because he realized the current world we live in doesn’t deserve him.
DDL plays world-renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in the film, although knowing Lewis’ style as a method actor he probably also lived Woodcock’s life for well over a year. Woodcock is brilliant. He’s also relentlessly demanding, terse, cold-hearted, and selfish. The only thing he loves more than himself are his dresses, and he’ll steamroll anyone in the way of getting the perfect one made.
It’s amazing (and probably naive) that I still walk away almost surprised at how great Daniel Day-Lewis is, even after three Oscars and many more brilliant performances. The man simply immerses himself in every character he plays, which immerses you in every movie he appears in.
You’ll go through a range of emotions with Reynolds in Phantom Thread. You’ll definitely hate him at times, and it won’t be difficult. Then you’ll be confused when you actually start laughing at his dry ass humor. Then you’ll be even more confused when you start to feel sympathy for his true inner character. Daniel Day-Lewis evokes emotion like few other actors.
His range in Phantom Thread is the perfect display of DDL’s acting prowess in his swan song.
The antidote for the nauseating Woodcock? A strong woman. The only other characters even noticeable in Phantom Thread are Reynolds’ sister Cyril and a strong-headed waitress-turned-model named Alma. Both women possess a no-nonsense attitude and keep Woodcock in check the best that someone like Woodcock can be kept in check.
Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, is the perfect muse for Woodcock. She is never intimidated by the dressmaker when almost anyone else is. She also possesses some of the same qualities Woodcock has, for better or worse. Her demeanor challenges Woodcock at almost every turn, but it also makes her a good match for him. Krieps brings the character to life, and her chemistry with Lewis is enveloping. She even matches DDL in her demeanor and size on the screen when they share a scene. Kudos to Krieps in her first major Hollywood role.
If Alma is Woodcock’s muse, then Cyril is his mirror. While most cower with fear when Reynolds is in one of his moods, Cyril does the exact opposite. She serves as his dressmaking assistant, but also his compass in life. Apparently being blunt and honest without considering feelings runs in the Woodcock family. Turns out Cyril is exactly what Reynolds needs.
Lesley Manville is the actress who brings Cyril to life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie Manville is in, and I would consider that an advantage. She is perfectly believable as the dry and straightforward Cyril. Much like Krieps, Manville’s chemistry with DDL is perfect, but in a way that’s completely different. The conversations between the two have a different tone than those with Lewis and Krieps, which displays more range in Lewis’ character as well as Manville’s.
In other words, Daniel Day-Lewis could not have put on the performance he did without VickyKrieps and Lesley Manville.
A PSA For PTA
The acting performances are brilliant in Phantom Thread, but any review would be remiss if it didn’t mention the writing and directing of Paul Thomas Anderson.
Now let’s be clear – the story has pretentious nature to it. But give me a chance to turn a perceived negative into a positive. As the movie opens all you see is the cold and adversarial Reynolds Woodcock. He continues to struggle internally and externally throughout the film, but he also shows redeeming qualities. The character wouldn’t be nearly as likable (may be too strong of a word) and dare I say relatable in the end if not for the beginning. That credit lies with Paul Thomas Anderson and his writing of the film.
There are reports that PTA drove DDL into retirement with the way he directed Phantom Thread. I hate him for that in my core. But I still can’t deny the talent that went into the writing of this movie.
I also mentioned how beautifully twisted the story is. I can’t mention why without spoilers, but you’ll have to trust me and use it as a reason to see the movie.
Should I Go See Phantom Thread?
If you’re a movie person, there’s absolutely no reason NOT to see Phantom Thread. I could say that simply because it’s a generational actor’s last film and that reason would be good enough. But the supporting actresses and writing add to the equation and make this a genuine “Oscar-bait” film.
(Featured Image via Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)