This is going to come off as a bit shocking, and rightfully so, but I have an awful confession to make: I have never seen a Paul Thomas Anderson film. I know, I know. I’m a terrible person. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and others of his have been hailed as modern movie classics. I just never got around to watching them, though. Not sure why. Now, I feel like I can’t help but kick myself for missing out on these for so long after viewing his most recent project.

Phantom Thread follows fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who runs a business with his controlling sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) in 1950’s London. In search of a new model for their garments, Reynolds meets waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), quickly striking up a romantic relationship. As their relationship develops, Reynolds and Alma learn over time that they may not be made for each other. However, that doesn’t stop either of them from trying to gain control and dominance in this new relationship.

Phantom Thread‘s primary theme is all about nurturing and providing nourishment for your loved ones, even if they think that’s not what they want. While the attraction between Reynolds and Alma is very real, they both have completely different ideas when it comes how to love one another and build their relationship. When Reynolds is having Alma model his new fashion designs, he seems more infatuated with the garments he created, than the woman who’s actually wearing them. Unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis is astonishing in the lead role, communicating so much of his character through precise facial expressions and body language. Reynolds is the kind of man who lives by strict routine, and you can see the frustration in his eyes when Alma keeps disrupting it. However, you can still see fragments of this damaged man wanting more from his life, and perhaps she can provide it for him. If this is truly going to Day-Lewis’ final performance, then he picked an excellent one to go out on.

That certainly doesn’t mean that the rest of the performers are slouches either. The romance and events surrounding them wouldn’t be as mesmerizing if the main character’s counterpart was bland, and Vicky Krieps is anything but. She starts off as incredibly sweet and a little bit naïve, but the more she professes her love to Reynolds and the more he doesn’t reciprocate it, some darker sides of her begin to rear their heads. She looks at Reynolds with such adoration and longing, that it’s somewhat sad that he can’t break through his own issues and show it back. He’s so set in his ways and damaged from past trauma, that only desperate measures will make him see the love that she has for them. Day-Lewis is 26 years older than Krieps and much more experience, but she holds her own and turns in an equally impressive performance. Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs, and the film is surprisingly quite funny at times. Leslie Manville sardonic wit adds a lot of humor, especially as she’s concerned for her brother’s well being, while distrusting of Alma’s intentions.

This is certainly one of the most bizarre romance films I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s very beautiful, yet has a somewhat haunting atmosphere, especially as their relationship grows more complex. Anderson took the cinematography reigns here, his first time doing so, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Many shots look like an old school Victorian painting, especially when Alma models lavish dresses in massive rooms. Cinematography is much more technical than directing, so it can’t be easy to just jump into, but Anderson pulls it off swimmingly, making the visuals work perfectly with the tone of the film. It wouldn’t have all been as atmospheric without Johnny Greenwood’s wonderful musical score. It’s one of those rare scores that accompanies practically the entire film, hardly ever being silent. It sets this very serene mood that perfectly complements the setting, really only stepping aside during the more climactic scenes. When the music suddenly drops and you’re drawn more into the visuals and dialogue, it puts you right on the edge of your seat. I can’t remember the last time I was this engrossed in an on-screen relationship.

I feel somewhat ashamed to be putting off Paul Thomas Anderson for so long, because after witnessing just one film, I can recognize why he’s held in such high esteem. For what’s essentially a dark, romantic comedy-drama film, Phantom Thread is wrought with tension from beginning to end. Anderson crafts a beautifully odd romantic tale, bringing it to life with gorgeous camerawork, outstanding writing, and even better performances. Not once during the 130-minute runtime was I bored, and I was actually disappointed when it came to an end. Sure, the story is complete, but the characters and story were so riveting, I craved more. Thankfully, there’s an entire filmography of this filmmaker to check out, and hopefully many more films to come in the future.


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