Phantom Thread (USA / 15A / 130 mins)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville.
THE PLOT: London, the 1950s. Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a well-respected dressmaker. He lives a very ordered life with his prim and observant sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who he affectionately calls ‘so-and-so’. A committed bachelor, Reynolds soon tires of his latest muse. He sets his eyes on waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), an idealistic younger woman who is equally strong-willed. He brings her into the house, initially for fittings and because he enjoys her company. He moulds her into his new muse, while she in turn moulds him into something resembling more human…
THE VERDICT: ‘Phantom Thread’ is ostensibly Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest unmissable film. However, it’s also the swansong of one Daniel Day-Lewis. The Wicklow-based actor of a generation has called it a day at the age of 60, joining the ranks of Sean Connery and Gene Hackman. The roles have been fewer in recent years, but all of them have been gems. ‘Phantom Thread’ is another one to add to the crown.
Anderson’s script is set up as an unlikely love story that is slowly teased out over the power struggle between Reynolds and Alma. It’s a brilliantly written back-and-forth between them. Reynolds is a coiled lizard who speaks slowly and deliberately, as if every word was invaluable. He admonishes Alma for moving too much during breakfast and denounces her attempts to move him out of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, Alma knows that to get to this older man’s heart she’ll have to speak frankly with him and be both his muse and his lover.
There’s another aspect to this too – that of Cyril. Reynolds might like to think that he’s the king of his own castle, but he listens to her. He responds to what women are saying and Anderson’s script is so well-judged on this front. That strange triangle of Reynolds, Alma and Cyril is the heart of the film and the respective actors respond with gusto. Day-Lewis once again inhabits the role, even learning how to be a dressmaker as part of his meticulous research. It’s a concentrated performance not without some humour. It leaves this reviewer in no doubt that the Oscar belongs to him and not Gary Oldman.
He’s equally matched by Manville and Luxembourg-born Krieps. Manville taps into Day-Lewis’ performance, so that you get a sense of them being very much siblings. Krieps more than holds her own against them, in a solid performance which has been sadly overlooked by Awards Season. It’s an understated film, even with Jonny Greenwood’s lush, omnipresent score. There are no fancy camera moves or attempts to wow audiences. There’s enough style in it to satisfy fashion mavens without being obvious. It’s a slow, mature film which is all about the characters, but not a minute is wasted.
Retirement didn’t quite work out for Steven Soderbergh, so maybe it won’t work out for Day-Lewis either. He could be tempted back in a few years, if the right role presented itself at the right time – maybe a hat trick with Anderson? If not though, ‘Phantom Thread’ is an exquisite and well-deserved farewell.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor