Film Review: 'Phantom Thread'


Vicky Krieps stars as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, a Focus Features release. Credit : Laurie Sparham/Focus Features.

“Reynolds has made my dreams come true, and I have given him what he desires most in return. Every piece of me.”

This is the opening line from Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film, Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what is reportedly his final film before retreating from Hollywood and acting all together.

The opening scene introduces the sterile, yet exquisite life of Reynolds Woodcock, a high-fashion dress designer in 1950s London. Seamstresses dressed in muted colors line up outside his workshop in the early hours of the morning waiting to be let in. Woodcock’s sister and business partner Cyril (Lesley Manville), marches down the spiral staircase finally opening the door to the seemingly impeccable world of the House of Woodcock.

Woodcock, a fastidious genius whose endless irritability makes for many humorous scenes throughout the film, is an incredibly dynamic character. His life is his work: Designing for women, from princesses and debutants to the upper, upper-class. With his thick-rimmed glasses resting at the tip of his nose, Woodcock sketches from morning to night while maintaining his rigid schedule.  

Everyone around him must acquiesce to his neurotic tendencies, rules and, at times, hideous behavior, including Alma (Vicky Krieps), who enters his life unexpectedly.

After dismissing his most recent muse in an early scene where he viciously scolds her for interrupting his silent and precious breakfast hour to beg him to love her once again, Alma comes into his life.

Although Alma too adheres to Woodcock’s eccentric mannerisms, she changes his life in a way his other muses were unable to and holds her own next to a man who has always gotten his way.

But the film is not what it seems, taking the audience on a few unexpected turns. The first-half has a hazy, dream-like quality that seems to be leading to a predictable end. What is thought to be a film simply about an eccentric and inalterable character turns dark and twisted; what viewers expect from an Anderson film.

Some film critics, including Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies, felt the build-up was too delayed saying he found himself “fidgeting” in the first-half and it “took too long to get to the subversive part.”


Courtesy of Focus Features.

For those who are more attracted to the “razzle-dazzle” Hollywood blockbuster-type film, this might be true. But for those who enjoy beautiful cinematography and excellent acting, Phantom Thread entertains regardless of the slower first-half.

Speaking of the acting, it probably goes without saying, Day-Lewis gives another outstanding performance that immerses viewers into the character and lifestyle of Woodcock.

For any actor, going up against Day-Lewis, who is arguably one of the best actors of all time, is more than challenging, but the female actresses in the film don’t bat an eye.

Krieps, a Luxembourg actress, is absolutely mesmerizing. Pairing her with Day-Lewis is a match made in heaven. In a pivotal scene, Alma decides to cook dinner for Woodcock dismissing the staff and Cyril for a rare night alone with the man she loves.

“Good luck,” Cyril said to Alma before leaving for the evening. Upon arrival, Woodcock tries to compose his “about to blow” anger, but inside is livid for the interruption in his strict schedule. Yelling ensues after Woodcock is baffled by Alma’s choice to prepare the asparagus in butter when she knows perfectly well he prefers oil and salt.

As the two scream at each other across the table, Krieps stands shoulder-to-shoulder as an actress to Day-Lewis through her emotions, movements and authenticity.

Manville also gives a subtle, but impressive performance as the severe, but, at times, soft sister.

Also garnering critical acclaim is the film’s score by Jonny Greenwood, who has scored three of Anderson’s films. Matt Atchity, head of programming for TYT Network, called Greenwood’s score, “The best he’s ever done,” and said it “added to the film in a way that scores sometimes don’t.”

This is undoubtedly true. The music of Phantom Thread complements the film beautifully, by first creating the romantic, mid-century feel of Woodcock’s life, to perverting itself as the relationships in the story take twists and turns. Greenwood’s score was used for the majority of the 90-minute film, adding to the overall elevation.

Whether Day-Lewis’ performance will earn him his fourth Oscar is yet to be known, but his dedication and acting methods for Phantom Thread, like many of his films, are as fastidious as Mr. Woodcock.

To enter the mind of a fashion designer, Day-Lewis learned how to cut, drape and sew—even recreating a Balenciaga gown on his own. Day-Lewis also, per his own request, worked closely with the film’s Academy Award-winning costume designer Mark Bridges.


Actor Daniel Day-Lewis (left) and writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) discuss a scene on the set of the upcoming release Phantom Thread, a Focus Features release. Credit: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features.

Bridges collaborated with Day-Lewis in creating the beautiful, hand-sewn gowns that often stole the scene. Bridges even allowed Day-Lewis to choose some of the fabrics used for certain looks and style some of Woodcock’s outfits, including a pair of silk, lavender pajamas worn to the fiery dinner with Alma.

During the filming of Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis announced his departure from acting. Although he didn’t cite a specific reason, he explained in a W Magazine interview, “I need to believe in the value of what I’m doing. The work can seem vital. Irresistible, even. And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t.”

If this is indeed Day-Lewis’ final film performance, Phantom Thread does him justice and puts the cherry on top of his untouchable legacy as an actor.

Phantom Thread is now playing in San Francisco.