Director Paul Thomas Anderson started his career with the sizzling one-two punch of Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, both released in 1997. Those films signaled that a fresh new talent had emerged on the scene, someone with a deep reverence for the films of Martin Scorsese. Then followed Magnolia, a sprawling epic about the intersecting lives of a dozen Los Angelenos, which was influenced by Robert Altman’s work. After that was There Will Be Blood and The Master, each of which felt like Anderson was dipping into his resource bag and channeling the late Stanley Kubrick. Now, comes Phantom Thread and it’s Anderson’s Michael Cimino moment. He’s crafted a gorgeous looking meticulously detailed film that is impeccably produced, acted, and designed but impenetrable on an emotional level.
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an obsessive genius in his field. That being the garment industry. He methodically designs woman’s dresses and has a team of seamstresses work with delicate precision to assemble his drawings into reality. Reynolds is a bit of a prick though and his life runs with clock-like precision, and little interruptions. This hermit existence is lorded over by the ever-present Cyril (Lesley Manville), a late-middle-aged woman who is Reynold’s mother-figure. As a self-proclaimed bachelor Reynolds’ mindset is changed when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) in a countryside teahouse. The older man is struck by the much younger woman’s sunny disposition and they engage in a relationship that will alter her rural lifestyle.
Phantom Thread is a film that feels like Oscar-bait from its inception and everything was worked out backward from there. The Academy has always lavished praise and loads of nominations on this esoteric type of cinema. My biggest problem with the picture is that Reynold’s isn’t a compelling character. He’s vaguely written, mannered to perfection and emotionally withdrawn. Phantom Thread is Anderson’s least accomplished film in terms of story, accessibility, and overall filmmaking technique. Where is the dervish camera work from his earlier work? What happened to the captivating monologues that are key pieces of Magnolia, Blood, and The Master? Phantom Thread needed a good re-write, or maybe it just a story not worthy of being told, especially by this talented roster of actors.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps