Paul Thomas Anderson is the rare filmmaker who’s work you can almost definitely recognise while his filmography becomes increasingly varied in tone and genre. From his giddy exploration of the 70’s/80’s porn industry with Boogie Nights to the experimental Adam Sandler rom-com Punch Drunk Love and a dark exploration of greed in There Will Be Blood, it’s understandable why Paul Thomas Anderson is often considered the greatest director in American cinema at the moment. He once again embarks on a wildly different project with Phantom Thread, his second collaboration with screen legend Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role.
Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a high-lauded dressmaker in 1950’s London, a man who seems to treat the women in his life as disposable; they mustn’t get in the way of his fastidious lifestyle and if they do he gets his co-worker/sister Cyril (played by the marvellous Lesley Manville) to break it off, instead of dealing with it himself. Of course, Reynolds becomes infatuated with another woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress who turns into his girlfriend/muse. However, Alma begins to realise this relationship is only completely on Reynold’s terms, he doesn’t care about her wants or needs, just himself and his work. While I won’t give much away, Alma attempts to gain power in the relationship and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
Many critics have tried and failed to exactly explain what Phantom Thread is and why it works, and I am probably another one of them, but I’ll give it a go. Despite Paul Thomas Anderson being a filmmaking mastermind, he somehow always subdues himself enough to make almost every single meticulously done frame in his films, emotionally pure perfection.
What most people will come to see the film though is the acting. Daniel Day-Lewis is as you’d expect nothing short of brilliance, but it’s Vicky Krieps who truly steals the show. Her performance is so unbelievably naturally controlled, going seamlessly from shy to incredibly powerful.
The film also seems to be the most fun Paul Thomas Anderson has spent making a movie since Boogie Nights, especially with a large portion of the film being dedicated to viciously well-spoken verbal sparring (the film has some of the funniest and most unforgettable lines in recent memory) as well as being his most visually indulgent with the astonishing costume work and sets.
Phantom Thread is a masterful yet subdued piece of cinema that works as an effective study of the toxic male creative, a dark comedy and a twisted, yet still very moving gothic love story. The term masterpiece can be thrown around a lot, but the term was made for films like this.