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Daniel Day-Lewis is hilarious, but ‘Phantom Thread’ is wrecked by its ghastly ending

P.T. Anderson’s latest is a sumptuous romantic comedy drama that ultimately over stretches itself
Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
[Image: Focus Features]

‘Phantom Thread’

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps

Rating: R

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3.5 (Out Of 5) Globes

Plot: Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker in 1956 London, who alongside his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) helps to dress members of the royal family, film stars, socialites, and various other members of the elite under the name of The House Of Woodcock. A life-long bachelor, Reynolds seemingly moves from one woman to the next. The latest in this line of women is Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress that soon becomes Reynolds’ muse. However, she is intent on staying in his life forever. 

Review: Every new Paul Thomas Anderson film evokes a feeling that’s only parallel is the joy a child feels on Christmas morning. Anderson’s decision to reunite with his “There Will Be Blood” leading man Daniel Day-Lewis means that plenty will go into “Phantom Thread” feeling as though Christmas, six birthdays, and the birth of their first-born have all been rolled into one.

As you’d expect from two iconoclasts like Anderson and Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” and “There Will Be Blood” don’t share too many similarities, as the anger and rage in the former simmers when the latter exploded. One of the effects of this, though, is that most of “Phantom Thread” plays as a dark comedy, as we repeatedly see Reynolds acting like a petulant diva as those around the dressmaker try to placate him.

There are two scenes in particular that will provoke a mixture of awkward laughter and genuine guffaws, as Reynolds argues over how he wants his asparagus cooked, while the other involves Alma and Reynolds watching in despair as a glorious dress is ruined. But there's plenty more where that came from, as throughout Day-Lewis delivers utterances with a venom and spite that you can’t help but flinch and laugh at in unison.

“Phantom Thread” won’t go down as Day-Lewis’ crowning acting achievement, but it showcases just one of numerous other sides to his extraordinary talent that we now sadly won’t get to see due to his impending retirement. Considering he is still just 60, it feels like a travesty that we will now miss out on the different characters that only he could have brought to life as he got older.

But while Day-Lewis’ Reynolds is the sun that the film orbits around, the performances of Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps are both just as impressive and probably more lasting, too. Manville is the more intense and throbbing, as just a mere stare from her as Cyril immediately strikes fear. Krieps’ Alma might be more naïve, but when a sinister edge appears the Luxembourgian actress doesn’t wither, and instead manages to go toe-to-toe with the formidable Day-Lewis in such a vivid manner that she even wrestles scenes from him.

“Phantom Thread” couldn’t work as well as it does without the detail, though. Costume designer Mark Bridges meticulously and captivatingly peels back the dressmaking profession, while still managing to wow us with the garments themselves, Johnny Greenwood’s music might just be his most captivating and effective to date, and as the film’s cinematographer Anderson injects a gothic mood that’s haunting yet romantic.

When it comes to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work as its writer and director this very much feels like his most personal movie to date, as it delves into themes and metaphors for creativity, art, love, life, and relationships, all of which he mixes in a toxic cauldron. For most of the film this bubbles and intensifies with a Hitchcockian potency. There’s also an aimlessness to “Phantom Thread” that can feel challenging considering the usual stringent structure deployed by other directors that are too afraid to let films spiral out of control, but is mostly invigorating.

Then comes the ending. I’m not going to go into the conclusion too much here, though. To do so would wreck “Phantom Thread,” something that its abrupt, half-baked finale does itself. While it links up thematically, it is just too much of a stretch, and leaves you feeling much more puzzled than anything close to satisfied.

In many ways, though, that’s exactly what makes P.T. Anderson the most provocative and mesmerizing filmmaker in cinema today.

Anderson takes the risk that other directors wouldn’t even dream of. In the case of the ending of “Phantom Thread,” it didn’t work.

But there’s so much beauty, comedy, and pathos littered throughout the rest of “Phantom Thread” that it feels like a foreign language compared to every other American movie out there, and thus Anderson still deserves and even needs to be lauded.

 
 
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