One way to describe Phantom Thread is that it is very cerebral. There’s always a lot of focus on the faces of the characters, forcing you to analyze what is going on in their heads which will be frustrating for some viewers. Yet, in spite of its nearly aimless ambiguity, Phantom Thread is still a masterpiece thanks to its Gothic atmosphere along with the mysterious and alluring performances by its main acting trio.
Phantom Thread is set 1950’s post-war London and follows the story of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) along with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Reynolds has a reputation as a bachelor since women in his life tend to come and go until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress who becomes his muse and lover. As their love begins to blossom, it soon becomes dangerous once it is woven into Reynolds’ career.
Before the film’s release, it has been described as “Mike Leigh meets 50 Shades Of Grey.” To some degree, that is true. It has a period setting which is something that Mike Leigh is fond of and there is sensuality to be found despite it not being shown in the form of physical kink. It’s more about the D/S part of BDSM since it demonstrates the dynamic between Reynolds and Alma who ensure their control over one another. Reynolds assures dominance through the use of verbal intimidation while Alma uses her charm to make him weak at the knees.
Reynolds Woodcock proves to be a man of mystery with his charm, paranoia, and diva impatience. All of which are perfectly realized by Daniel Day-Lewis who gives what may be his final performance to date. If this truly is his final performance, this is quite a high note to go on. As amazing as he is, though, the film belongs to its leading ladies. Lesley Manville is a dominant presence as Reynolds’ high strung sister Cyril even when she sits still and spouts a zinger that cuts like a meat cleaver. Also, Vicky Krieps is a revelation as Alma, Reynolds’ lover who is submissive yet analytical. The fact that Krieps is able to go toe-to-toe with one of the greatest actors working today in her breakthrough role proves that she is a talent people should take note of. Even when the screenplay doesn’t offer much dialogue, it is the glances that both Day-Lewis and Krieps exchange that demonstrate their sensual chemistry.
There is also a horror atmosphere to be found in this erotic drama thanks to the chilling score by Jonny Greenwood that accompanies Reynolds’ paranoia along with each scene set in the lonely house that Reynolds resides in, making this Paul Thomas Anderson’s most genre-bending film to date. His previous films have been rather singular with Boogie Nights being a portrait of the porn industry and There Will Be Blood being a character study about capitalism and greed. But Phantom Thread manages to be an erotic fashion drama with a Gothic horror atmosphere.
Despite Phantom Thread not being his best film because of how it is about a half hour too long and it never really tells us what the title means, Paul Thomas Anderson has still woven together an ambitious masterpiece. It’s one of those films that doesn’t answer every question that audience members have upon first glance. But it’ll probably have us studying and analyzing it for years to come because it is spectacular.