Movies have an incredible knack for drawing us into subject matter that we otherwise would have no interest in. There are a great number of things that I am interested in and feel I have a great passion for, whether that be movies, books, baseball or even a subject matter like history. Fashion is not one of those topics. My fashion sense hasn’t changed since I was five and has consisted of t-shirts, jeans, and sweatshirts (oh, I did upgrade to flannel). Despite that real-world bias, Phantom Thread creates an interesting view and insight into this small piece of the fashion world set in the 1950s.
Phantom Thread isn’t so much about fashion though; fashion is really the backdrop for this story of compulsion, love, and madness. People often write how Rocky isn’t really about boxing because it is a backdrop for a love story. Phantom Thread is even less about fashion than Rocky is about boxing. Fashion is the art form of choice for the fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Phantom Thread isn’t about a fashion designer; it is an artist. Woodcock doesn’t see himself as making a product he is making art.
Woodcock needs a muse in order to make his creative process work. He finds one, and eventually grows bored of them and disposes of them to move onto the next one. On his most recent trip out into the countryside, he finds his latest muse, Alma. Alma is different because she is tenacious, smart, and needs him as much as he needs her.
I won’t go into much detail than that. Although the movie has been out for a while, this isn’t a box office hit, so there are a few people that haven’t seen it. Phantom Thread works best when you are kept in the dark over what is going to happen next. Director Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t let on to the viewer where the story is going next. For some viewers, they might feel they are being toyed and won’t enjoy a movie like this. I think from my brief description above you can decide whether or not this movie is for you anyways. Phantom Thread has that unique ability to always keep you guessing, and just when you thinking you’re watching one type of movie, Anderson expertly switches gears and subverts your expectations. This takes a couple of lefts and unexpected right turns all the way leading to a bizarre and unique ending that’ll leave you stunned.
Movies like Phantom Thread always want to keep you asking questions and let you work for the answers. Anderson trusts his audience to be able to follow the key themes of the movie to figure out the true meaning of the ending or at least an interpretation. Many films try to be oblique and because they do many will praise just for simply not explaining anything to the audience (as I mentioned similarly in my Annihilation review). Phantom Thread is another good example of when this approach works. Anderson gives you just enough to grasp and bite onto while not giving you everything.
Phantom Thread is anchored by two performances. The first is obvious, Daniel Day-Lewis played Reynolds Woodcock. Woodcock is very particular, well spoken, mad, and grumpy. Lewis would have made a good Scrooge. But here is supposedly Lewis’s last performance and he makes it once again a great one. It is truly startling how great of an actor he is. There is not a single moment, breath or blink that you can’t buy. Lewis is truly one of the greatest actors in the business and now it’s strange that we’re so accustomed to his greatness that it almost doesn’t feel necessary to drone on about how great he is. In other news, water is wet.
Opposite to him is Vicky Krieps playing Alma. Vicky has the job of matching wits with Daniel Day-Lewis, and that is no easy task. I haven’t seen Krieps in much else other than Phantom Thread so I didn’t go in with any pre-existing notions of her abilities, but she was stunning. There were points in the movie where she steals the show and owns the scene. Her character is distant at first but once the movie starts to dive into her arc, that’s when she really takes off.
That being said, Phantom Thread isn’t quite the masterpiece some are proclaiming it to be. The movie is beautifully shot, incredibly well acted, and has an intriguing and challenging story about two lovers. However, there are a few issues. Quite often I am the one arguing in favor of longer movies. I secretly hope the 4-hour epics come back into style. That being said, at just over two hours, Phantom Thread is too long. It drags in many places where it feels the story should start to speed up. Someone said that this would make an amazing short film, but I don’t think it needs to be cut that heavily. That being said Phantom Thread could have afforded a tighter package. I found my interest waning at various points. The ending is also going to be the subject of much debate. Earlier, I called the ending bizarre and unique, but I’m not sure I liked it. This may not be an ending you’re supposed to like but for as bizarre as it is, it felt almost too easy and I’m not sure if it is consistent with the rest of the movie (although that last point could change with more examination). I talked about it with my friend and he liked the ending so it is clear this ending is going to divide people.
Phantom Thread is a very well done movie that could have magnificent but I think the movie is held back from a couple of key factors. This doesn’t measure up to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (which I think is one of the best movies of the 21st century), but it is his best film since then. This is quite the performance for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on and is a beautiful movie to look at it. With just a little more refinement this would have been great but as it is it’s still very good.