There is always a certain mystique surrounding projects where you know it’s going to be an person’s last. Some extra emphasis is placed on the final performance. In cases where the person passes away, there’s often intense scrutiny. However, retirement usually elicits a much more celebratory response. Such is the case with Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, the Phantom Thread.
In his final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis was as brilliant as ever. His long and storied career is filled with dynamic and iconic portrayals, but this was right there at the top. Always the master craftsman, this character was right in his wheelhouse. Reynolds Woodcock, is neurotic and fastidious man burdened by his obsessive nature which plays right into the skilled hands of Day-Lewis. His knack for brooding intensity fits the character to a tee and allows him to grit his teeth and go full bore. Physical acting and sharply aware facial expressions elevated the character beyond broad strokes, bringing Woodcock to life in unforgettable fashion. Although Day-Lewis may be calling it quits, this portrayal will be remembered for a long time and could very well net him another Academy Award for Best Actor.
Opposite Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps was exceptional in her role as Woodcock’s love interest Alma. The relatively unknown actress from Luxembourg does more than hold her own across from the legend, giving him a serious run for his money whenever the two share the screen. Similarly, she brought an intensity to the role which heightened not only her own performance but those of the characters actors around her as well. There are a slew of emotions she has to encompass throughout her journey and she captures them marvellously. Krieps is something of an old soul, possessing a world of sentiment behind her eyes. At 34-years-old, it took an opportunity like this ot put her on the map, but her stock is sure to soar after this. This role is likely to earn her a Best Supporting Actress nomination and, even if she doesn’t get the nod, she’ll have her share of prominent opportunities down the road.
Rounding out the trio of dynamic performances, Lesley Manville serves as an intermediary of sorts playing Woodcock’s sister Cyril. Battle tested by her brother, she has a thick skin and a wry sense of humor…two musts in the world of an obsessive perfectionist. Much like her sparring partners, Manville also showcased an arsenal of nonverbal cues and heavily weighted facial expressions. Had the circumstances surrounding the character design been different, there could easily have been two Best Supporting Actress nominations coming from this film.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a unique filmmaker to say the least, playing a bit of one-man-army on this latest film. His scripts continually deliver passionate, intense dialogue that does wonders in the hands of skilled actors and this instance was no different. The screenplay focuses heavily on the primary players and their dialogue never waivers much from the task at hand. While the story of an obsessive compulsive dress maker doesn’t exactly sound compelling, the story actually moves along at a good clip and gets more interesting as it rolls along…revealing unexpected layers. Anderson could easily pick up a nomination in both the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories.
This is the first time Anderson has taken on cinematography duties since the 1988 short film The Dirk Diggler Story which put him on the map, but his patented visual style, utilizing continuous shots and natural lighting, carries over. He has a penchant for lingering close-ups, which allows for his actors to utilize nonverbal cues and body language to enrich their performances. It may seem unimportant, but the richly layered approach to writing and filming the characters made for a much more well rounded, tangible experience for the audience. He also chose to shoot the film on 70mm which enriched the finely grained visual detail in the story. While the filming locations were mostly cramped interiors (going hand-in-hand with the use of close-ups), the space was maximized…feeling cramped but not necessarily redundant. There were some particularly innovative shots using a mounted camera fixed to the back of Woodcock’s roadster which delightfully captured the sense of speed and some of the beautiful countryside to go along with it.
There is a beautiful original score to accompany the visual storytelling which gives pulse to the emotional tone and sets the pace for the plot. Because this is a period film, the compositions play a crucial role in shaping the narrative and so it’s no surprise that Anderson went to his main man Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead to compose the music for this film. The score is both heavy and light as the film requires, but never fails to impress upon the audience a certain level of seriousness. Greenwood could earn his first Oscar nomination for Best Original score, but since he didn’t get one for There Will Be Blood he may not get the recognition here either.
The story of an elite, perfectionist dress designer wouldn’t be complete without some fantastic costumes to match the reputation. For this colossal task, Anderson turned to his longtime associate Mark Bridges, who has served as Costume Designer for all of Anderson’s films. I’m no women’s fashion connoisseur, but it’s plain to see Bridges did a spectacular job. When you see the dresses the attention to detail is evident, but he did a spectacular job with Woodcock’s suits as well. Although the dress design took top billing, outfitting Day-Lewis is equally stylish men’s clothing cemented his position as a renowned dressmaker. This was a unique instance where the costume designer’s work doubles as a plot mechanism. It will be very difficult to deny Bridges the Oscar for Best Costume Design.
At its core, this is a romance film. Albeit a dark, often mournful and twisted look at love. It’s quite funny though. Not in the laugh-out-loud kind of way, but there are certainly plenty moments that garner a chuckle and a smirk…if you have the right sense of humor. Every aspect of quality filmmaking is on display throughout the 130-minute runtime, which helps make the length feel like a non factor. The plot is unconventional but the delayed gratification pays off if you’re patient.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the filmmaking craft, this is an exceptional example. For fans of Daniel Day-Lewis, and acting in general, this is a must see. It’s a little slow early on, but you’re rewarded in the end. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did.