From Butcher to Couturier
Over the course of his career, Daniel Day-Lewis has played an eclectic group of characters on screen. Well known for his method style of acting Day-Lewis is an actor who throws himself completely into any given role, both in front of and behind the camera.
From disabled artist, Christy Brown in My Left Foot to notorious gang leader, Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis has always delivered stand out performances. This commitment to his craft has paid off in dividends, as he’s won three Oscars, four BAFTAs and two Golden Globe for his performances.
One such prolific performance (and arguably his greatest) was that of the greed-driven prospector Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic, There Will Be Blood. Now almost 10 years later the pair are reunited for what Day-Lewis is declaring will be his last film ever.
Set in 1950s London, the film follows world-renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock. A man obsessed with his work to the detriment of those around him. His incredible talent is almost matched by his brazen manner until a young waitress, Alma comes into his life. Instantly enamored by her, Reynolds sees her as a muse but Alma’s strong will soon disrupt the flow of his entire life.
Going Out on a High?
In the leading role of self-confessed “confirmed bachelor”, Reynolds Woodcock, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the role with a brooding intensity that only comes to the surface in short, sharp outbursts. He completely immerses himself in the role allowing the audience to occasionally gaze upon the inner complexities of his character through a stern look or a disingenuous smile. If this is to truly to be his final on-screen role, Day-Lewis certainly goes out on a high.
Playing opposite him is Vicky Krieps as Alma, the waitress who captivates Reynolds and inspires him in his work. However, she is no doe-eyed beauty, helpless in love with a great artist. On the contrary, she is more than fit to handle Reynold’s harsh demeanor. This is where Krieps does really well in the role as she manipulates Reynold’s behind a false projection of shyness. She more than holds her own opposite Daniel Day-Lewis through the subtitles in her performance.
Another performance of note comes from Lesley Manville as Reynolds Woodcock’s “old so and so” (sister). As a domineering maternal figure, Manville’s cold and reserved performance gives the audience a greater understanding of Reynold’s past and how she has come to be such a huge influence in his life.
With Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson takes a simple premise of a strained relationship between artist and muse and enriches it with rich, twisted characters and some intriguing thematic ideas that transcend the basic elements of the film leaving the audience with plenty to think about long after the credits roll.
Old-School Filmmaking with a Modern Twist
This is down to the complex relationship that exists between Reynolds and Alma. What starts as a fairly off-kilt coming together, soon descends into a bizarre power struggle between the two with elements of sadomasochism. Despite these shifts in the relationship being significantly different from each other, Thomas Anderson ties them together quite well through his strong screenplay.
What is clear from the film is that Paul Thomas Anderson has a great affinity for the visual aesthetics of classic Hollywood and employs this kind of look for the film through some terrific costumes and set design. He takes old-school filmmaking techniques and adds a modern twist to them making the film always engaging, even through the lull periods of the second act.
It is here where the film falters somewhat. With a running time of over two hours, the film is too long. The strong opening is bookended with a great third act, but the middle the film at times feels like it is going nowhere making it almost a slog. However, the revelations of the third act make the film not only worthwhile but it warrants a second viewing.
One of the best aspects of the film is the score from Radiohead’s, Jonny Greenwood. His piano-driven score is one of pure elegance and grace that blends perfectly into the background of every scene it features in. It has an old-fashioned sensibility to it that would make it fit into the works of Hitchcock with ease.
With Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson crafts a twisted tale of love that shrouds the sadomasochism in the power struggle and changes in dynamics between the two main characters. With terrific performances by the entire cast (especially Daniel Day-Lewis) and an Oscar-worthy score from Jonny Greenwood, the film stands as another great in Paul Thomas Anderson’s back catalog.