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Despite being, in a sense, the most straightforward, linear narrative movie the writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson has made in quite some time (perhaps since “Punch Drunk Love”—and this is not the only respect in which the two films resemble each other), “Phantom Thread” could be the filmmaker's most fascinatingly oblique work.
The movie opens with a simple title card (accompanied on the soundtrack by high-pitched tones that could be string instruments, or electronic feedback), followed by a medium close-up of a young woman sitting in a chair, her face illuminated by fire light. “Reynolds has made my dreams come true,” she says calmly, addressing a figure not yet seen. The scenes that follow make this assertion rather hard to believe.
Welcome to the world, then, of Reynolds Woodcock, a couturier and a man of meticulous routine, as the following montage of his toilette attest. He applies shaving soap with brio, snips his nose and ear hairs with precision (played by Daniel Day-Lewis , he is a well-kempt man of a certain age), pulls up and cuffs his purple socks with vigor. At breakfast, a young woman offers him a luscious looking pastry and he looks at her as if she were a gigantic insect. A little later, Woodcock consults with his sister Cyril, a clipped and forceful woman, about how this household figure is to be disposed of.
And soon Woodcock is off, like a shot, to Robin Hood’s Bay, driving into the morning, dropping off his powerful car at a local garage, and ordering as he settles down to a table at the Victoria Hotel. We notice a young waitress at first because she is clumsy. Taking Woodcock’s order, she gains assurance; she vows to remember his order by heart, and it is enormous. She gets it just right, and he asks her, Alma, to dinner. At dinner he does most of the talking, describing his mother, and how she made him the dressmaker he is now, on account of his having made the dress for her second marriage. He talks of various superstitions concerning the making of wedding dresses; he tells Alma about the ways one can secrete small objects and messages into handmade clothing. When the conversation wanes, he looks at her. “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she says. And finally he invites her to his dressmaking studio in his country home. Where he does not seduce her, but asks her to stand for him so he can begin to create a dress for her. Cyril arrives just in time to write down Alma’s measurements— but not before sniffing Alma all over. Alma confides to Cyril her insecurities about her body. “You’re perfect,” crisp Cyril responds. “He likes a little belly.”
What is this relationship? A little later on, walking by the bay, Reynolds reflects on his great luck in finding Alma, and she responds, “Whatever you do, do it carefully.”
Reynolds is not particularly careful with Alma. She butters her toast too loudly. She oozes into his studio carrying a tea tray and he can’t take it at all; they volley back and forth with hard words and he finally says to her, “The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me.” Alma concludes that after long periods of work, Reynolds needs to “settle down.” Her way of making him do this is, well, interesting.
But this is not a film that has a conventional climax; the war of wills between the two characters does not have a tidy resolution. We don’t even know just what it is that Alma wants, let alone what she gets. Her background is shrouded. Beautifully portrayed by Vicky Krieps , she speaks with a slight German accent. There’s a scene set at a press conference, where a vulgar dowager for whom Woodcock has made a wedding dress is discussing her impending wedding to a Dominican politician. A journalist asks the man about whether he “sold visas to Jews during the war” and Anderson cuts to a close-up of Alma, her face neutral. This is a movie of confrontations, of dreamlike moments dissolving into micro nightmares, but it is hardly a conventional “battle of the sexes” story.
The movie is, of course, beautifully made. Anderson’s visual style is remarkable. Shooting the picture himself, reportedly, with the collaboration of lighting cameraman Michael Bauman , he frames in a Kubrick-inflected style but cuts with a Hitchcock-influenced one. This gives the movie a sense of momentum that’s supported by Jonny Greenwood ’s score and the other music (mostly classical) alternating with it. This is very much a “composed” movie; very little of it is without music, and there are very deliberate shifts in instrumentation and orchestration throughout. The acting is, of course, impeccable. Day-Lewis, performing for the first time in what seems like a long time in an accent and vocal timbre not unlike his natural one, is a tightly-wound wonder who becomes like an old-man kitten once Alma has reduced him to the “open and tender” state that she frequently desires of him. Krieps and Lesley Manville , both impeccable, inhabit the circumscribed world of this story with utter integrity.
There is a good deal around that world that Anderson withholds. The film is set some time after World War II, and it seems like centuries away from the so-called “Swinging Sixties.” But "Phantom Thread" goes to great lengths to never identify the exact time, despite containing a scene set at a New Year’s Eve party. There is never, in the scenario, a turning point that signals a permanent change in one of the character’s behaviors. Rather, the movie is a persistent depiction of the perverse stages of a perverse evolution. (Irresistible force and immovable object constantly moving to different places on a chess board.) In a sense, it feels anecdotal. The dialect in which the characters speak (peppered with frequent profanity; this R-rated film has no nudity, no sexual depiction, no physical violence and is rated R solely on account of its language, and possibly its themes) presents an arguably contemporary portrait of what would conventionally be called a bad alliance/marriage. But, as we’ve said, it’s set in an indeterminate time period, and Anderson’s determination to keep that period indeterminate creates a fluttering sensation relative to the familiar worlds and/or genres wherein we suspect the work itself could be said to be located. Numinous objects in the movie signify the pre-gothic (mushrooms, the dirt from which they are pulled) and the post-gothic (Woodcock’s car, a purple Bristol sedan, possibly a 1955 405, a speed demon of almost science-fictional dimensions). The movie also is rich with simultaneously playful and serious nods to what I presume to be Anderson cinematic touchstones, including “ A Clockwork Orange ,” “Psycho,” “The Knack (And How To Get It),” and, not as improbably as you might think, “ Raising Arizona .”
As they gradually build, the intimations inherent in the movie’s latent content, which is ever roiling under its beautiful surfaces, become dizzying.
When Reynolds is sick with fever, he imagines his mother, standing stiffly in the wedding gown he made for her, against a wall next to a door in his bedroom. But he never looks directly at the figure. Instead, lying on his back, he stares straight up, and says “Are you here? Are you always here? I miss you. I think about you all the time.” This is the central node of the work, a pointing to a mystery that none of us will ever be able to solve, a sincere expression of hope within the loneliness we try to escape by, among other things, refusing to love each other. It takes us back to the movie’s title, and invests it with a power that is both exhilarating and frightening.
Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .
The Iron Claw
Matt zoller seitz.
The Sweet East
Anyone But You
Marya e. gates, film credits.
Phantom Thread (2017)
Rated R for language.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock
Lesley Manville as Cyril Woodcock
Vicky Krieps as Alma
- Paul Thomas Anderson
- Dylan Tichenor
- Jonny Greenwood
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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Phantom Thread’ on Netflix, a Low-Key Paul Thomas Anderson Classic
Where to stream:.
- Phantom Thread
- Paul Thomas Anderson
Ryan Reynolds Begs "Please Don't F*** With TCM" Amidst Layoffs at Classic Movie Network
From sherlock holmes to 'the kid detective,' a brief 4-20 exploration into why so many detectives turn to drugs, heather graham opens up about filming her first-ever nude scene in 'boogie nights': "it was terrifying", stream it or skip it: 'licorice pizza' on amazon prime video, paul thomas anderson's ode to verboten love (and early '70s los angeles).
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza chugging its way through the endless 2021-22 awards season, Netflix adds his previous film, 2017’s Phantom Thread , to its menu morass. The film marked Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance prior to his retirement, newfound prominence for Lesley Manville and the emergence of Vicky Krieps, the latter of the three being, quite criminally, the one who didn’t get an Oscar nomination. That may be the opposite of recency bias for you, because a few years’ distance and additional viewings reveal the depth of mischief Krieps brings to the film, revealing her as its true dynamic fulcrum.
PHANTOM THREAD : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: “I cannot begin my day with a confrontation, please.” Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) will have none of that, “that” being anything, no matter how miniscule, a light sniff or half-blink of an eye, that might disrupt his focus and routine. His woman, girlfriend, companion, lover, muse, showpiece, whatever she may be, anonymous to us, is discarded, rubber-stamped out the door by Cyril (Manville), Reynolds’ sister/handler/manager/silent dictator, who he calls “my old so-and-so” just so we won’t know the boundaries of their relationship. He is a dress designer for socialites and Royals, the best of the best, and one can imagine it’s a high-pressure gig. He is fastidious because of this, or he is this because he is fastidious. No, he’s not fastidious. Sociopathic? I don’t know, but that might be closer. It’s the 1950s.
Cyril suggests that Reynolds visit the countryside, so off he drives, too fast in his sporting motorcar, alone. He finds a restaurant and a waitress catches his eye and she stumbles and blushes and he orders Welsh rarebit, with a poached egg, scones, butter, cream, jam (not strawberry), a pot of lapchang souchong tea and some sausages from her, and she hands him a note calling him a “hungry boy” and telling him her name, Alma (Krieps). We don’t see him eat it, so if he ate any of it or all of it, who knows, but we definitely know he ordered it, and there was a lot of it. There is romance. He stares lovingly, quietly at her and she smiles warmly and playfully and says, “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.” Reynolds takes Alma back to his country house, shows her around, shows her a picture of his mother in a wedding dress he sewed for her, shows her his lair, with its tape measure and mannequin and fabric samples, and what begins as a sensual sizing takes a turn when Cyril wordlessly emerges from the shadows and Reynolds begins dictating the numbers to her. Alma frowns. She’s being processed.
And yet, Alma moves into the room adjacent to Reynolds, in his London home, where Cyril also lives of course, and which is also his design studio, office and workshop for his team of seamstresses. The three of them have breakfast and Reynolds sketches and Alma scrapes and crunches her toast and he bristles and Cyril saw it coming. He snaps at Alma and she snaps back and he snaps again as he leaves the room and she gets the last word. “I think he’s being too fussy,” she tells Cyril. It begins. A duel between microaggression gladiators. Alma becomes his woman, girlfriend, companion, lover, muse, showpiece and combatant, and she can hold her own with the highly competitive and quite obviously oh so jealous Cyril, too. Next thing you know, she’s making him asparagus with BUTTER when she damn well knows he takes his asparagus with oil and SALT, and you know she knows this but did it anyway.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: When Alma reads up on mushrooms, poisonous and non-, and chops one up, and finely mortar-and-pestles it, and takes a tiny spoon and fills a thimble with it, and tap-tap-taps it into the pot as the camera looks up through the water in the pot, it is so, so very Hitchcock – Suspicion , Rebecca , Notorious .
Performance Worth Watching: We have preconceived notions of what a character like Alma is in typical movies – the meek lower-class girl swept into a prestige lifestyle with beck-and-call servants and the like. Anderson toys with that assumption and yanks the rug out from under us – Krieps’ performance places assumptive naivete atop ruthless calculation. We know nothing about Alma, her upbringing, her stature, her education, her past lovers, her experience with anything at all. A lowly waitress falling in with the man who frocks up princesses for their weddings? This isn’t a rom-com, and, more shockingly, it’s not Day-Lewis’ movie. Once our expectations are upended and we watch Phantom Thread a second (or third, or fourth) time, it’s clear it belongs to Krieps.
Memorable Dialogue: Everyone loves “Kiss me, my girl, before I am sick” – it’s the movie’s signature line for good reason. But I’m quite partial to “I think it’s clear. He wants you to f— off.”
Sex and Skin: None, but we can only imagine .
Our Take: Anderson not only shatters the dynamic of the mainstream romance, but also upends the stereotypical portrait of a great artist or craftsman who sacrifices his personal life on the altar of professional achievement. But Anderson is no reactionary; his intent, I believe, is to push a love story into a new, tantalizingly understated realm of nonsexual (as far as we know, anyway!) perversion. Phantom Thread falls in with the filmmaker’s other vice-grip character studies, There Will Be Blood and The Master , and therefore his best work; it has more in common with the latter, in its ambiguity and twisted psychology.
What emerges from Phantom Thread on a second or third watch is its rich comedy, rooted in schadenfreude for the Reynolds character, an immoderately uptight, high-class Londoner, oft-lavished with praise, surrounded by underlings, catering to the detestable rich and enabled by his sister, who’s the pragmatic brain of their operation, and with whom he has a codependent relationship that seems, if not quite incestuous, then just plain unhealthy . Reynolds can’t function without Cyril, and seeing Alma wedge herself between them, almost mischievously, is downright hilarious.
It’s necessary, though. Reynolds doesn’t recognize it immediately, but he needs the challenge. His previous romantic relationships fizzled because the women tried to ingratiate themselves into his rigid routine, a fatal error. Alma is a catalyst, a strong woman and a feminist, perhaps. His perfect, well-oiled, dispassionate, mechanical status-quo rut is showing signs of deterioration: Contrary to his personal and professional method, the couture business is about motion and progress, and new fashions are beginning to nudge his classic designs out of vogue.
He rarely compromises, but when he does, it’s painful, inspiring one of the film’s funniest sequences: One of Reynolds’ major benefactors, the repulsive Barbara Rose (played with sumptuously grotesque self-loathing by Harriet Sansom Harris), demands a new Woodcock dress for an upper-crusty endeavor, then proceeds to get sloppy-intoxicated; Alma insists they retrieve the dress from this unworthy woman, so she and Reynolds invade her hotel room and strip it from her torpid body. That sequence is a formative bonding moment in Alma and Reynolds’ relationship, which subsequently blooms into a thing of strange near-horror, albeit one mutually agreed upon, so hey, whatever works, as long as it’s consensual, right?
Anderson’s attention to detail is unmatched in modern film. Although Phantom Thread stretches past two hours, no moment is wasted, each one enriching the overall narrative. Its meticulous art direction, its period-specific costumes, set design and score, contribute to our engrossment in this boundary-pushing romance, which is endlessly rewarding, a feast of subtle eccentricity and enticing manipulation. Hitchcock would’ve loved it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Phantom Thread is a low-key PTA classic. Seen it already? Well, watch it again.
Will you stream or skip Paul Thomas Anderson's #PhantomThread on @netflix ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) January 17, 2022
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com .
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Review: Daniel Day-Lewis Sews Up Another Great Performance in ‘Phantom Thread’
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By A.O. Scott
- Dec. 24, 2017
Reynolds Woodcock, a couturier plying his trade in London in the 1950s, has a habit of sewing secret messages into his garments. (“Never cursed” is the blessing stitched in lavender thread that he slips into the hem of a wedding gown commissioned by a princess.) These invisible traces of his hand — hidden meanings in the literal sense — signify that his dresses are more than luxurious commodities. They are works of art, obscurely and yet unmistakably saturated with the passion and personality of their creator.
It hardly seems an accident that Paul Thomas Anderson has inscribed his monogram in the title of his eighth feature, “Phantom Thread,” which chronicles a few chapters in Reynolds’s fictional life and career. This is a profoundly, intensely, extravagantly personal film. I don’t mean autobiographical. I know little and care less about the details of Mr. Anderson’s personal life. Whether or not his longtime partner, the actress and comedian Maya Rudolph , has ever cooked him a mushroom omelet is a matter of complete indifference to me.
Not every movie about an artist is a self-portrait of its director, but “Phantom Thread” almost offhandedly lays out intriguing analogies between Reynolds’s métier and Mr. Anderson’s. The fashion designer, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, turns drawings into drama, manipulating color and movement and the human form to construct a material object that is also artificial, idealized and fantastical — a commodity that impersonates a dream. He is assisted in his labor by a crew of disciplined artisans who cut and stitch his ideas into usable form. (This may be the place to note that the editor of “Phantom Thread” is Dylan Tichenor. Mark Bridges designed the costumes. Mr. Anderson served as his own director of photography.)
The result of this collective toil is a singular vessel for beauty and pleasure, subject to the whims of the market and the vagaries of taste and therefore easy to trivialize. It’s just a movie. It’s just a dress. When Reynolds’s sister and business partner, Cyril (Lesley Manville), informs him of the departure of a longtime client for a house she regards as more “chic,” the designer has a small tantrum. The word disgusts him, not least because it expresses the vulgarity of the environment in which he must pursue his lofty visions.
That discrepancy — between an exquisite sensibility and a world of grubby, shallow materialism — may explain some of the temperamental quirks that Reynolds shares with his creator. Over the years, especially since “There Will Be Blood,” Mr. Anderson has repeatedly manifested his indifference to the fashions and conventions of contemporary filmmaking. In particular, he disdains the careful, self-conscious husbanding of themes and messages that preoccupies many of his peers. He always seems more interested in what his movies are than in what they’re about or who they might be for.
“Phantom Thread” is not as hermetic as “The Master” or as loosey-goosey as “Inherent Vice.” It’s a chamber piece, romantic and baroque in equal measure, with arresting harmonies and ravishing changes of tone. (This might be the place to note that Jonny Greenwood composed the score). Like “There Will Be Blood,” it casts Mr. Day-Lewis as an avatar of obsession, driven this time by the pursuit of aesthetic perfection rather than money and power. But whereas Daniel Plainview in the earlier film was a vector of pure, demonic ambition, Reynolds Woodcock bemusedly discovers himself to be one leg of a complicated emotional triangle.
The other sides are Cyril and Alma (Vicky Krieps), a non-British waitress in a provincial British restaurant who becomes Reynolds’s model, mistress and muse. Usually this is a temporary assignment. We briefly meet Alma’s predecessor, Johanna (Camilla Rutherford), who annoys Reynolds at breakfast and is dismissed offscreen by Cyril, with one of Reynolds’s old dresses as a consolation prize. Johanna’s sin is to request some of her lover’s attention, a demand he regards as intrusive and distracting.
That dynamic will repeat itself with Alma, who butters her toast too noisily, pours tea with too much splashing and boldly asserts her right to exist as something more than an ornament in the Woodcock household. The battle of wills that ensues — a two-front war for Alma, who must contend with both Woodcock siblings — is the film’s dramatic furnace and its comic engine. The three main performances are each as richly textured and subtly shaded as the clothes. Mr. Day-Lewis composes a symphony of moods: sardonic, melancholy, inspired, impatient. But he is matched by Ms. Krieps, an actress from Luxembourg as canny and unintimidated as Alma herself. Is this collaboration or competition? A tango or a tennis match? Whatever it is, this partnership is thrilling to watch: funny, wrenching, full of large and small surprises.
The difference between melodrama and comedy is a matter of perspective. Alma, Cyril and Reynolds are all, in their various ways, supremely witty people, capable of underlining the absurdity of their situations with a well-arched eyebrow or a devastating remark. They are acutely sensitive as well. What is painful to them is sometimes funny to us. The reverse is also true.
Like a garment that can be worn with the lining on the outside, “Phantom Thread” reverses itself, almost imperceptibly flipping from Reynolds’s point of view to Alma’s and back again. She succumbs, at first, to what is most likely a well-practiced campaign of seduction: Reynolds flirts with her at breakfast, invites her to dinner, takes her back to his country house and sets about making her a dress. What she regards as her physical flaws — small breasts, broad shoulders, wide hips — he sees as signs of perfection. She is dazzled by his ability to be dazzled by her.
But then, when the spell seems about to wear off, Alma refuses to let it. She rejects the shabby bargain Reynolds offers her, which demands the complete suppression of her will in exchange for his occasional recognition of her existence. “I live here,” she says to a client who might otherwise have assumed she was just another seamstress. She fights for her position in the household, trying to outmaneuver Cyril and to force Reynolds to recognize her as his equal. There is some temerity in this, and some novelty in the way Mr. Anderson depicts their relationship. The wives of artists in movies and literature tend to be doormats or helpmeets, and their psychic anguish and creative fire rarely move from background to center stage.
Is Alma a feminist heroine? Some version of that question is likely to fuel more than a few post-screening arguments. Your answer may depend on what you think of the mushroom omelet that is the movie’s spoiler-proof surprise. There are other things to talk about. On first viewing, the captivating strangeness of the mood and the elegant threading of the plot are likely to hold your attention, but later you can go back to savor the lustrous colors, the fine-grained performances and the romantic mystery that holds the whole thing together.
What kind of love story is “Phantom Thread”? The wrenching tale of a woman’s love for a man and a man’s love for his work. A dry, comic study of the asymmetries and conflicts at the heart of a marriage. A refined gothic nightmare in the manner of Henry James. A perverse psychological fable of unchecked ego and unhinged desire. That’s a partial catalog, and one that can’t quite capture how bizarre this movie is. Or how bizarrely true to life — to art, to love, to itself — it feels.
Phantom Thread Rated R. If children see clothes like these, who knows what they might get into their heads. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
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Phantom Thread Reviews
A simple thing, a robe, and yet it captures so much of what it feels like to have passed so close to disaster...
Full Review | Mar 27, 2023
“Phantom Thread” reveals a dialed-back Paul Thomas Anderson in top form. His writing is spellbinding. His direction is daring and confident. The look of the film is as beautiful as rare Flemish lace.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Aug 24, 2022
Phantom Thread has more feeling and emotional range in its restrained drama than some of his other works - this is certainly the most raw emotion he's produced since Punch Drunk Love (2002).
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4 | Mar 16, 2022
Phantom Thread is a low-key PTA classic. Seen it already? Well, watch it again.
Full Review | Jan 21, 2022
A love story for narcissists, deceptively tender to the touch, an exquisite cashmere cardigan concealing its cold, cold heart.
Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Jul 29, 2021
Not everyone will see what we uncover in the same way, not every meaning becomes clear, but the result is gorgeous, provocative, and mesmerizing.
Full Review | Jul 20, 2021
Daniel Day-Lewis was phenomenal as always...
Full Review | Apr 14, 2021
Anderson's masterful craftsmanship makes clear that is where the passion is found, making the climactic moment of this film one of the strangest yet most romantic moments in a year of strange romances.
Full Review | Apr 13, 2021
Critics and audiences have responded to Anderson's latest film in part because of what it is not: children's fare, violent bombast, superhero and comic book nonsense. Phantom Thread stands out to that degree.
Full Review | Feb 11, 2021
An exquisite weave of gothic romance and haute couture comedy.
Full Review | Dec 29, 2020
In Anderson's world, love is psychotic and sickening and irrational - and it must be fought for.
Full Review | Original Score: 6/10 | Dec 5, 2020
Taking in Phantom Thread is like sitting down at a bar, asking the bartender for something strong, and finishing whatever is put in front of you. You are guaranteed to love it, but have no idea initially what it is.
Full Review | Nov 10, 2020
If this is Daniel Day-Lewis' last movie, then he retires with a masterpiece bookending his illustrious career.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Nov 5, 2020
It's one of those films that doesn't answer every question that audience members have upon first glance. But it'll probably have us studying and analyzing it for years to come because it is spectacular.
Full Review | Oct 9, 2020
I kind of get the feeling that Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't completely buy into the whole idea that love is patient and love is kind and all that jazz.
Full Review | Original Score: 4.0/4.0 | Sep 20, 2020
"Phantom Thread" is a film to admire for its dazzling visuals and power performances, but frustrating to consume as an audience experience due to its shaky script. Beware of Best Picture nominees that lack screenplay nominations.
Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4 | Aug 29, 2020
A sumptuously crafted masterpiece of icy opulence, elegance and a rigid yet bold humour.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Aug 19, 2020
There's a tactility to it all. But there's also a humor that underscores the grandiosity that Anderson so clearly loves, and in that way, Phantom Thread works best as a comedy.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Jul 23, 2020
The Phantom Thread in an intricate study of human behavior and development of interpersonal relationships. [Full review in Spanish]
Full Review | Jul 4, 2020
At times self-important and in love with it's own inflated brilliance, it can be stodgy and smug and distant. Other times, it's lovely and sweet and inviting.
Full Review | Original Score: B | Jul 1, 2020
‘Phantom Thread’ Review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Ode to Obsession Is Spellbinding
By Peter Travers
Reynolds Woodcock, the 1950s-era British fashion titan played by the astounding Daniel Day Lewis in what he cruelly insists is his final film role, likes secrets. Specifically, he likes to sew them into his clothes, notes to himself in the lining of a garment that mark his art as indelibly his. Paul Thomas Anderson – who wrote, directed and served as uncredited camera operator on Phantom Thread – crafts films the exact same way, marking his territory and teasing us to discover the hidden gems inside. You don’t need to, of course. Since Anderson, 47, is the best, most provocative and eternally questing filmmaker of his generation, you can ride the surface of his richly imagined cinematic creations and still get the wind knocked out of you. But why settle for surface? From Hard Eight through Inherent Vice, this artist has always dared audiences to dig deeper.
The wildly inventive and perversely funny Phantom Thread, set to the hypnotic thrum of Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral score, concerns a workaholic narcissist and the women who fall into his orbit. Anderson has noted influences, including Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Vertigo. But aside from being about how we need love no matter how it fucks us up, those film influences are a slight misdirection. He uses the work of other artists as a springboard, not a blueprint – and besides, Woodcock is not Hitchcock, i.e. an artist looking for a muse created out of ghosts from his past. Not to mention that this film takes you places those earlier movies wouldn’t think of going.
Our man in London is a top designer, one who compartmentalizes his life so personal distractions can’t penetrate the bubble he builds around his art. “Marriage would make me deceitful, and I don’t ever want that,” he says. Woodcock’s world does not exclude sex – only commitment. In fact, a long line of models form in the hope of attracting his attention, usually muses he can exploit until he discards them. Or rather, his sister does. Her name is Cyril, and as played by the magnificent Lesley Manville with brittle efficiency and hints of a nurturing heart, she enables her brother. Then his eyes fall on Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress working at a seaside hotel. The young woman jumps into his bed but seems unprepared to spur his creativity. Their romance is totally lacking in an erotic charge until Woodcock sews a dress on Alma’s body … and his fantasy of her comes to life. (OK, maybe there’s a lot of Vertigo in that notion.)
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Then he moves on. The fashion godhead is struggling to keep up with changes in haute couture, and there’s no place for Alma in his life except as a distraction. The trouble starts when she pushes her way into his work. Petty annoyances like biting loudly into her toast are nothing compared to criticizing his designs or choice of fabric. To re-establish their bond, Alma decides to dismiss the staff and surprise him with a home-cooked dinner for two. “Let me be unambiguous,” Cyril tells her. “Don’t do it.” She does do it. The result is a disaster. The muse has thrown the master off balance. She furthers the impact by goading him into a jealous fit at a New Year’s party. Then she starts taking more drastic measures to get his attention.
Sick in bed with fever and near death, Woodcock lets Alma begin to nurse him back to health – at which point Anderson turns Phantom Thread into a dark comedy of relationships that thrive only after they’re broken and take a new form. Sexual politics, then and now, echo through the film. Is the filmmaker working out his own issues through his infirm screen counterpart? Maybe so, but don’t look here for gossipy details about the director’s 16-year relationship with actress-comedian Maya Rudolph, the mother of their four children. It’s what’s elemental that counts.
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Day-Lewis traces the arc of his character from remote tyrant to willing slave with a majestic command – his immersion in the role, down to the pinpricks on Woodcock’s fingers, is total. The Luxembourg-born Krieps (pronounced creeps ) has a harder go of it playing a woman who must be all things to one impossible man. But she stands her ground, riding the waves of Anderson’s artful, ardent writing and direction until Alma turns the tables. The film is gorgeous in every detail, with costumes by Mark Bridges and production design by Mark Tildesley that dazzle the senses. But the overriding theme is the agony and euphoria of creation.
It’s endlessly fascinating to watch the actor and artist behind the camera (sharers in the same creative obsession) negotiate a hard truce between art and life. Anderson is deliberate and cunning about revealing the secrets he’s sewn into the fabric of his spellbinder of a film. Taking full measure of Phantom Thread may require more than one viewing – a challenge any genuine movie lover will be eager to accept. Our advice for now: just sit back and behold.
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Phantom Thread review: A wondrously bizarre final performance from Daniel Day-Lewis
The pleasure here lies in the unpredictability of paul thomas anderson’s approach, his ability and that of his actors to surprise us with every new stitch of the movie, article bookmarked.
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Paul Thomas Anderson, 130 mins, starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Jane Perry
If Phantom Thread is indeed Daniel Day-Lewis’s final film as an actor, he is going out on a wondrously bizarre note. This must be the oddest film in his career, one in which he gives a typically commanding but very idiosyncratic performance. Almost everything here is jarring – but generally in a very positive way.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s script is impossible to classify. One moment, we think we are watching a fashion movie. The next, the film turns into a love story, a twisted and fantastical one with a very morbid core which takes its tempo from the swirling, orchestral Jonny Greenwood score.
The setting is London in the early 1950s. The filmmakers have gone to extraordinary lengths to recreate the period accurately but seem somehow to have forgotten about one crucial element – namely the class system. Certain key plot points simply aren’t explained.
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Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a leading fashion designer who makes bridal dresses and ball gowns for very aristocratic customers. Reynolds in an extremely fastidious man, the type who, when he shaves, will also painstakingly trim his nostril hairs.
He is softly spoken with a lilting, slightly camp delivery. We might think that he’s a British equivalent to Christian Dior but his fey manner is misleading. He is aggressively heterosexual, drives a sports car and eats huge breakfasts of bacon, sausages, toast and raspberry jam, washed down by lapsang souchong tea.
He also swears like a trooper when riled. In short, he is a mix of charm and boorishness. “Why are you not married?” Reynolds is asked at one stage.
“I make dresses,” he replies, making it very clear that he cares more about fabrics than flesh and blood. Besides, no woman he meets can match up to the memory of his mother, about whom he gets very sentimental.
The romance here is set in motion in random fashion. Reynolds, with the assistance of his sister and business manager, the Mrs Danvers-like Cyril (Lesley Manville), has just dispensed with his previous girlfriend.
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“No more stodgy things,” he pronounces at the breakfast table, deliberately leaving it ambiguous as to whether he is referring to the pastries the girlfriend is offering him or to the poor woman herself.
Presumably to recover from the trauma of uncoupling, Reynolds heads off to into the country in his sports car, checking himself into a provincial seaside hotel. It’s here he catches his first glimpse of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress in the hotel.
Anderson deliberately withholds Alma’s backstory. She has a slight German accent but we are not told if she is, in fact, German. (That would presumably be the source of tension so soon after the war in which, we discover in passing, Reynolds fought. His main preoccupation wasn’t with killing Nazis, though, but with saving Flemish lace.)
Reynolds is immediately smitten by her. He may be an upper-class Englishman living in very snobbish times but no-one seems to think it is in the slightest unusual he has started an affair with a lowly hotel worker.
Krieps gives a sly and subtle performance as Alma. At first, she seems like an ingenue, a nervous, shy woman, in awe of her wealthy lover. She lets Reynolds mould her, Pygmalion-fashion. “You have no breasts,” he tells her during a fitting. “It’s my job to give you some… if I care to.”
He is the Zeus-like figure who doesn’t just dress women but whose clothes define their body shapes and even personalities. Krieps’ Alma is far less meek and passive than she first appears. Her personality is as strong as his. She turns out to share his ruthlessness, his obsessiveness and his ideas about beauty.
She is even more outraged than he is when one wealthy but very dowdy client, the hapless and matronly Barbara (Harriet Sansom Harris) gets drunk on her wedding day and has the temerity to fall asleep still wearing the gown that Reynolds and his team laboured so hard to make for her.
With its glimmering close ups of Krieps and Day-Lewis, strange plot twists and constant use of music, the film at times resembles those equally bizarrely plotted Hollywood melodramas from the 1940s in which Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would play the long-suffering heroines or one of those Hitchcock films in which we can’t work out whether the main characters are in love or want to murder one another.
It has the feel of a psychoanalytic case study. Alma his helping Reynolds exorcise the memory of his mother and enabling him to see women as more than just mannequins who wear his dresses. To do this, she teaches him what it means to be dependent and helpless.
The film has plenty of humour, some of it very arch. You’ll never regard mushroom omelettes in quite the same way after you see how Alma cooks them here. Anderson uses sound editing in ingenious fashion.
The scraping of a knife on a piece of toast or the pouring of tea is amplified so that it makes as much of a din to us, the audience, as it does to the long-suffering, ultra-sensitive Reynolds.
Day-Lewis brings a tongue in cheek quality to Reynolds, especially when he is telling doctors to “f**ck off” or beating Alma at backgammon. At the same, the treatment of the love story at the centre of Phantom Thread is in deadly earnest.
The pleasure here lies in the unpredictability of Paul Thomas Anderson’s approach, his ability and that of his actors to surprise us with every new stitch of the movie.
Phantom Thread hits UK cinemas 2 February.
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Film Review: ‘Phantom Thread’
In Paul Thomas Anderson's coldly seductive fable of toxic masculinity, Daniel Day-Lewis goes out with high showmanship (but not, perhaps, a home run) as a '50s British fashion designer who tries to control love.
By Owen Gleiberman
Chief Film Critic
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Reynolds Woodcock ( Daniel Day-Lewis ), the svelte and smoldering middle-aged British fashion designer at the heart of Paul Thomas Anderson ’s “ Phantom Thread ,” is a man who seems to have everything he wants. He lives in a splendid five-story London townhouse with walls the color of cream, and he works there too, starting early, sitting with his tea and pastries as he does the day’s sketches, already possessed by his reverent labor. He’s a dressmaker who works with the fervor of an artist — dreaming, obsessing, perfecting. At night he sips martinis at parties and restaurants, rubbing shoulders with the countesses and wealthy London ladies who are his clients, and he’s also a devoted serial womanizer who falls for — and discards — one comely model muse after another. (As the film opens, his current flame is flickering out.) “Phantom Thread” is set in 1955, but Reynolds, in his posh and pampered upper-crust way, has the air of a highly contempo bachelor hedonist. The world is his oyster, and it’s also his man-cave.
One weekend, he drives his sporty maroon roadster — at top speed, of course — out to his country getaway, arriving at dawn and ordering breakfast in the restaurant of a seaside hotel. The young woman who waits on him, Alma (Vickey Krieps), has a melting warm smile, come-hither eyes locked in a glow of adoration, and a mild accent. (It’s never specified where she’s from, but the 34-year-old actress Vicky Krieps hails from Luxembourg.) As soon as she takes his order for Welsh rarebit with a poached egg on top, a pot of lapsang tea, jam (not strawberry!), and an order of sausages, she can tell that this is a man whose appetite for life matches her own.
Daniel Day-Lewis has spent enough time behind the façade of concocted voices and elaborate hair that it’s always a bit of an ironic shock to see him head back into the skin of his own look and personality. In the early scenes of “Phantom Thread,” he’s urbane and inviting and demurely British, with his black-and-gray hair swept back; he’s so gentlemanly in his flirtation that he reminds you of someone like George Martin. After having dinner with Alma, Reynolds drives her over to his country studio, where she models for him, and he makes her a dress. It’s love at first stitch.
But, of course, we’re all too aware that something ominous has to be lurking in the shadows. There wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, and the plangent pull of Jonny Greenwood’s musical score, rapturous with longing and anxiety, summons an unmistakable ’50s-Hitchcock vibe. So does Anderson’s meticulous filmmaking. Reynolds is presented as a feverish artisan of fashion, sketching and sewing his way to a vision of the feminine ideal. He courts Alma by using her as a human mannequin, and it’s therefore hard not to get intimations of a movie like “Vertigo,” or maybe a super-kinky “Pygmalion.” Will “Phantom Thread” turn out to be the story of a man who falls for his fetishistic design of a woman?
The film’s dilemma, as it happens, isn’t nearly that spectacularly perverse. Reynolds comes under Alma’s spell, and since he’s a severely handsome and well-known designer, and she’s an expatriate nobody waiting tables in a country hotel, it doesn’t take higher math to see where this power imbalance is heading. Alma returns to London with Reynolds and becomes his new model and muse. He moves her into the bedroom upstairs — right next to his, as if conferring some great privilege, though it already sounds like he’s talking about a birdcage.
Do they sleep together? The movie doesn’t show that kind of thing (the oblique implication is yes), but their problems start at breakfast, where Alma butters her toast, and pours her tea, in a disarmingly noisy manner, which skews Reynolds’ train of thought. A little later, she makes the mistake of challenging one of his choices of fabrics, which leads to a back-and-forth verbal volley worthy of a screwball comedy, only Reynolds doesn’t want feisty rejoinders — he wants to be obeyed. (Just when the exchange is starting to sizzle, he shouts, “Enough!”) Did I mention that Reynolds’ sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), is sitting there during every one of these encounters? She’s his business partner, and also, apparently, his eternal companion (along with the ghost of his dead mother). Reynolds and Cyril are close in a way that suggests something warm, loyal, and a little unseemly. She’s like the housekeeper in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” creepy and a touch macabre, always hovering , except that the great Lesley Manville, her eyes like black lasers, her hair piled into a short stacked ‘do, plays her like the Judi Dench version of a John Waters character: a badass in dowager’s clothing.
Anderson, who didn’t just write and direct “Phantom Thread” but shot it himself (uncredited), stages the movie as a lavishly suspenseful piece of wealth porn. His camera travels up and down the stairways of the townhouse, and he lingers on Reynolds’ work as a designer, swathing us in the physicality of the fabrics — the 16th-century Flemish lace out of which he makes Alma a gorgeous lavender dress, or a stunning royal silky number with pink diamonds on the breast. Anderson, in making the film, drew on the careers of several British designers of the period (like Charles James), and the essential exotic element for the audience is that this is the pre-couture world, where fashion, at least in Britain, had yet to enter its postmodern dream phase. That was just starting in France, and Reynolds, at one point, spits out the word “chic” as if it were a vile obscenity.
For all the attention it lavishes on Reynolds’ designs, and on the daily swirl of his existence, where he’s surrounded by a flurry of seamstresses, “Phantom Thread” isn’t, at heart, a tale of artistic passion. It’s a parable of toxic masculinity. Reynolds’ last name, Woodcock, can sound like it was invented to reduce Beavis and Butt-Head to a state of grunting hysterics — but, in fact, the meaning of the name is exactly that. Day-Lewis’s Woodcock is a stiff, a hard virile puppet of a man — a selfish vessel of male desire. He has invited Alma to fall in love with him, and she does, but all that means to Reynolds is that he wants to go on with his life as is (the work, the parties, the routine), with Alma as the girl utensil he takes down from the shelf whenever he feels like it. The movie is constructed as a kind of suspenseful showdown: Will Reynolds the elegant tyrant of fake romance, with his Woodcock coldness, break her down? Or will she turn the tables?
“Phantom Thread” is seductive and absorbing, but it’s also emotionally remote. The film is framed as a love story, but it never swoons, and it’s enough to make you wonder: Why does Anderson, whose work back in the late ’90s (the transcendent “Boogie Nights,” the enraptured “Magnolia”) pulsated with off-kilter humanity, now make dramas that are essentially didactic studies of fantastically cold brutes? He remains a filmmaking wizard, and “Phantom Thread” sweeps you up and carries you along, much more, to my mind, than “The Master” did. Yet it’s a thesis movie: the story of a bullying narcissist who lacks the ability to have a relationship, and the outrageous way he’s schooled into becoming a human being. It’s the story of a control freak made by a control freak.
Did all of this start with “Raging Bull”? In “Phantom Thread,” Daniel Day-Lewis, who has declared that this will be his last screen performance, seems to be relishing the chance to play another flamboyant emotional fascist, and the movie asks the audience to chortle along, notably in the sequence where Alma tries to assert her place in the scheme of things by making an intimate dinner for herself and Reynolds. She has to shoo everyone out of the townhouse as if she were clearing Buckingham Palace, and when Reynolds walks in, he acts like he’s been ambushed. Will he eat his asparagus with butter the way she’s prepared it? Why should he? He likes them with oil and salt!
The sequence plays like the “Masterpiece Theatre” version of “There Will Be Blood,” with Krieps, as Alma, asserting her radiant devotion in the face of Reynolds’ stone-cold rejection. It’s at that moment that she decides to go to extremes — a twist out of a thriller that’s also a dark joke. It certainly plays (at least the first time), but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Day-Lewis, along with Anderson, has confused misanthropy with art. The actor plays Reynolds with a winning puckish gleam that turns sinister, but I can’t say that he goes out with a great performance.
“Phantom Thread” comes on, for a good long stretch, like Anderson’s sprawling version of “Rebecca” or “Suspicion”: a romantic suspense thriller coursing with dread. I wish it had stayed on that track, but Anderson isn’t content to make a black-hearted retro genre film. He’s too ambitious, and once Alma exacts her revenge, the movie does something a little bizarre: It goes back to square one, so that Reynolds, even after proposing to Alma, turns out to be the same old dick he always was. The film, in what should have been its culminating passages, loses steams and grows repetitive, building toward the scene in which Reynolds eats an omelette, colluding — knowingly — in his own punishment and reform. It’s supposed to be the film’s capstone of perversity: toxic masculinity toxifying itself. But it just made me wish that Paul Thomas Anderson would stop making movies about people who are so stunted that he can’t help adoring them for it.
Reviewed at DGA Theater, New York, Dec. 3, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 130 MIN.
- Production: Director, screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson. Editor: Dylan Tichenor. Music: Jonny Greenwood.
- Crew: A Focus Features release of an Annapurna, Perfect World Pictures, Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company production. Producers: Joanna Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Elison, Daniel Lupi. Executive producers: Adam Somner, Peter Heslop, Chelsea Barnard.
- With: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris, Lujza Richter, Julia Davis.
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Phantom Thread Review: The Most Surprising Love Story of the Year
By Richard Lawson
There’s something endearing, but also puzzling, about Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic partnership with actress-comedian Maya Rudolph. Forgive me for delving into a director’s personal life, but Phantom Thread, the new film from the celebrated auteur opening December 25, kind of feels like an invitation for some gentle scrutiny. So, I’m gonna do it. On the one side you have Anderson, whose past three films have been elusive, esoteric pieces, studied, formal, intense, and a little cold. And then there’s Rudolph, such a loose, warm, amiably goofy performer and personality. What is the secret to this union of seeming opposites, which has lasted for 16 years and produced four children? I think Phantom Thread offers some answers to that question, in unexpectedly sweet and strange fashion.
Phantom Thread is the second movie this season that finds a lauded writer-director processing how he, as an artist, has functioned in his personal relationships. In September, Darren Aronofsky gave us a hectic, harrowing allegorical look at a creator who’s also a destroyer with Mother! —a movie starring the woman he was dating at the time of filming, and that seems to refer back to a past marriage with another famous actress. The film is stuffed with biblical allusion and is, to my mind, a pompous, sneakily self-exonerating mess. Some people loved it, of course.
Give me Anderson’s version of that same inquest over Aronofsky’s any day. Like Mother! , Phantom Thread is about an unyielding artist. Daniel Day-Lewis, giving us one last blessing before he disappears into his version of retirement, plays Reynolds Woodcock, a sought-after high-end dress designer in 1950s London. Reynolds is exacting and frequently lost in indulgent distraction, wrapping himself up in his genius and expecting all those around him to be in his low orbit—to be called on and used whenever he is ready but to otherwise remain out of the way. Which means he’s not the best guy to date, dismissing women when they’ve begun to annoy him in some petty way, or when they get too close to seeing beyond whatever tortured artist bullshit he’s steeped himself in. (There’s a dead mother, of course.)
Which is, perhaps, a familiar character. But what Anderson does with this pile of chauvinist ego and entitlement is continually surprising. Most crucially, Anderson puts two formidable women beside Reynolds, and Phantom Thread undergoes a disarming transformation from chilly portrait of a cruel and powerful male narcissist to what could be described as a romantic comedy. The great Lesley Manville plays Reynolds’s sister, Cyril, a crisp and commanding business partner—and, in subtle ways, a confidant. She does the breaking up for Reynolds, firmly but not unkindly giving the current despondent young lady the boot when Reynolds has tired of her. That’s the formula until the arrival of Alma ( Vicky Krieps ), an émigré waitress Reynolds brings from the countryside to London, installing her in his stately townhome as his muse and lover. It’s an arrangement we just know will end at some point, and badly—because this is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and some sense of ruin or despair tends to arrive eventually in his films.
But Phantom Thread is something else, quite welcomely. As Reynolds and Alma circle one another, figuring out their dynamic by testing and prodding to see where boundaries lie, something like actual parity gradually develops between them. I won’t say how, exactly, because that would be something of a spoiler. But by the film’s lovely, darkly amusing end, it’s become clear that Reynolds and Alma have found some corresponding need and understanding within each other, that theirs is a bond that works because it sometimes breaks, because it’s dramatic and odd and makes a bizarre kind of sense only to them.
Which is a hell of a testament to a marriage (unofficial or not), isn’t it? After seeing the film, I found myself thinking how touched I would be if I were Rudolph, watching a film that’s so ardently honest (if a bit exaggerated) about the charged and complex exchanges of couplehood, the peculiar compromises of commitment. There’s a “you and me babe, against the world” kind of vibe to Phantom Thread —it winks with the conspiratorial coziness of a private joke. It’s fiercely romantic, in its improbable way. Cyril does not get shoved off to the side, either. Her and her brother’s relationship gets its fair due, its own affectionate assessment. (How often are brother-sister dynamics between older people explored in cinema? Not very!) What initially seems like another alienating P.T.A. outing reveals itself, in quiet but glorious bursts, to be a wry and heartfelt love poem.
And how ravishing it is. Anderson does his own cinematography, styling the film with a grainy, muted texture—tailored and expensive but lived-in. Jonny Greenwood’s lush, indispensable score is—I’m gonna say it—the fourth major character in the film. His compositions are airborne on curious breezes, lilting and sinister, playful and sincere. It’s just gorgeous work, as integral to the experience of the film as its sterling trio of lead actors.
Day-Lewis is a lot smaller here than he was in his first collaboration with Anderson, 2007’s howling There Will Be Blood. Which is a nice change. In Day-Lewis’s hands, Reynolds is a bully and a brat, but we see some bits of decency peeking out through all his measured prickliness. He’s obnoxious, this man who professionally, arrogantly instructs women how to comport themselves and then treats it as empowerment. But he’s also funny and charming in his moody way. There are a few moments of towering anger, but mostly Day-Lewis keeps things interior; Reynolds is a more reserved and watchful kind of jerk. He’s complemented well by Manville, who plays Cyril with a flinty poise that does not deny her her humanity. Unmarried herself, Cyril could easily have been rendered a brittle spinster. But Manville and Anderson instead give Cyril a confidence, a knowing, a self-possession that feels a bit revolutionary. She’s not alone. Because she has Reynolds, yes. But also because she has her business, and she has herself.
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It’s Krieps, though, who—mostly unknown to me before this—makes the strongest impression. The Luxembourg actress has been handed a complicated role: a woman who’s both antagonized and antagonizing, an increasingly autonomous half of this alternately thrashing and tender pas de deux. Krieps finds just the right bearing through the material, mixing the pain and the humor and the slightly more surreal stuff to stand strongly toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis. It’s a terrific breakthrough performance, wise and clever and sexy. Alma is quite a creation. If that was how my filmmaker partner wanted to show some version of me to the world, I think I’d be a pretty happy muse indeed.
But then again, what do I know about what the film means to Maya Rudolph? Or about what any gesture means to any couple, really? As Phantom Thread winningly argues, it doesn’t much matter how I see it, or how anyone else on the outside does. In the end, there’s only one person who really needs to get it—and only one person who really can.
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‘phantom thread’: film review.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays a 1950s English dress designer and newcomer Vicky Krieps his muse in 'Phantom Thread,' the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson.
By Todd McCarthy
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Arriving almost as if in a time capsule from the early 1950s , Paul Thomas Anderson’s exquisitely idiosyncratic Phantom Thread extends an invitation into an exclusive cocoon occupied by card-carrying eccentrics who demonstrate that all is fair in love and the world of haute couture. Less grandiose than the writer-director’s last three features, as well as more precision-controlled, this is a melodrama of love, desire and gamesmanship among three control freaks played out in a veritable hothouse in which the winner will be determined by who wilts last. More unconventional and downright weird on a moment-to-moment basis than it is in overall design and intent, it’s a singular work played out mostly in small rooms that harks back to psychological melodramas of the 1940s /’ 50s but hits stylistic notes entirely its own. Anderson’s ardent fans will be the first in line, while others will be drawn to see star Daniel Day-Lewis in what he has announced will be his final film appearance. We can all hope he one day changes his mind.
The post-World War II financial stress felt by most Britons seems not to have encroached upon the exalted enclave of high fashion and neurotic self-concern inhabited by dashing middle-aged clothing designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis). An elegant perfectionist whose clients seem to be mostly dowagers of a certain age willing and able to pay for elegant new garments every time they appear in society, the often silent man has cultivated an air of imperturbable self-absorption, and woe be to anyone with the effrontery to interrupt him when inspiration might hit at any moment. If the phrase “Genius at Work” had not already existed, he would have had to invent it.
Release date: Dec 25, 2017
You would think that Woodcock (the name, of course, reminds of Hitchcock) had the most important job in the world by the “do not disturb” vibes he emanates. His silences are meant to seem profound, all-important to his creative process, and whatever class station he was born into has been rendered irrelevant. The only person who is certain to know the full truth about him is his stern and proper sister Cyril (the estimable Lesley Manville), the gatekeeper who lives to keep her brother’s life immaculately organized and free of distractions. Any initial resemblance between Cyril and Judith Anderson’s controlling Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca is quite assuredly intentional.
And just as there was a young female wild card fated to upset a household’s suffocating equilibrium in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, so there is in Anderson’s first British film. Alma ( Luxembourgish actress Vicky Krieps ) is a waitress (who just happens to have the same name as Hitchcock’s real-life wife), seems to be in her early 30s , is polite and proper but with a ready smile and fair-game disposition. Woodcock’s conversational approach with her is far from normal, but he’s funny, disarmingly frank without actually revealing anything — a seductive odd duck. He brings her home but nothing happens (Cyril is there to greet them) and, when it eventually does, we see nothing of it; on the surface, it’s a very chaste work.
While there is precious little overt “drama” per se, before you know it you’ve become happily ensconced in a peculiar world you’ve never visited or even imagined before. The initial expectation is that a jealous and protective Cyril will try to use her wiles to outmaneuver Alma and send her packing, but this obvious plot line is subverted before long. A more useful key to discovering what’s going on is one character’s reference to a staring contest, with the implication that whoever blinks first loses.
The characters, and the film they inhabit, are loaded with peculiarities and perversities large and small. After Woodcock has brought Alma home, the designer in a professional capacity takes precise measurements of every possible angle and contour of her body and declares, “You’re perfect. It’s my job to keep you so,” disputing her belief that she’s too flat-chested. Quite apart from Krieps ‘ wonderfully subtle performance, it was very shrewd of Anderson to cast a little-known actress with no associative baggage and who’s pretty but perhaps not conventionally so; at times reminiscent of Meryl Streep as well as Julianne Moore, she can be quite alluring indeed when she comes alive with humor, energy and desire, but when standing dutifully at attention in uniform with the many other young women in Woodcock’s employ, she stands out barely at all.
As the guardian of all things Woodcock, professionally and personally, Manville commandingly exerts the force that convinces one and all that she maintains an iron grip on her brother’s professional eminence and personal equilibrium — until, perhaps, she doesn’t, which is when things get really interesting. That the film arguably reaches its grand turning point in a scene devoted to Woodcock eating an omelette says something about the film’s unrelenting oddness.
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It’s a safe bet that no film has ever featured so much sewing and clothes-making before, or takes it this seriously. Woodcock so ponders and agonizes over his creations that you’d think you were watching Beethoven birthing a symphony or Tolstoy laboring over the umpteenth revision of War and Peace. In numerous close-ups are visible little scabby pinpricks on Woodcock/Day-Lewis’ thumb, without doubt the result of the actor’s months-long practice at sewing with substantial needles. The verisimilitude of all the scenes devoted to the process cannot be questioned and are the partial result of the sort of total immersion in a character’s work and physical capacities that the actor is known for embracing.
Astonishingly, the London-born Day-Lewis hasn’t played an Englishman in a film since Stars and Bars in 1988, but he plays a consummate one here, a perfectionist whose image and role in society he has tailored with the same fastidiousness he applies to his work. With Alma he becomes playful at times but at others shuts her out; being preoccupied and impossibly self-centered are part of a persona that’s been as immaculately crafted as his best fashion creations.
Playing a “difficult” artist is something Day-Lewis knows something about — whether it’s because he is one himself or just knows a lot of them can be left to others to decide. But the man he’s created onscreen here is a fascinating combination of knowingly displayed temperament, keen discernment, wizardly talent, emotional evasion, bewildering about-faces, superhuman discipline and, ultimately, childlike vulnerability. In the end, Woodcock may, or may not, be the most powerful and resilient character in the piece, but he’s supremely complex and fascinating to observe.
Rarely has a costume designer’s work been so center-stage as Mark Bridges’ is here; it’s a film overflowing with fabric and what talented people do with it, and Bridges has done a great deal indeed. Mark Tildesley’s production design provides an often claustrophobically elegant backdrop for the intrigue.
After a long association with cinematographer Robert Elswit , Anderson has gone all Steven Soderbergh here by becoming his own director of photography, although he doesn’t acknowledge it; this is a film with no cinematography credit. The helmer has done a handsome, atmospheric, unflashy job of it, creating a rather hazy, diffused look without overdoing it.
All these good things being said, there is nonetheless no individual contribution to the film’s character and impact more important than Jonny Greenwood’s music. Creating his fourth soundtrack for Anderson, Greenwood has crafted a gorgeously melodious, piano-dominated score that would have been right at home as part of a black-and-white late-1940s romantic melodrama. Remarkably, however, there’s not a trace of retro or campiness to it, as it swoops right in to instantly transport you back to the era and create a mood of turbulent feelings and amorous expectation. As with the film itself, it leaves you wondering: “Where on Earth did this come from?”
Production companies: Annapurna Pictures, Joanne Sellar , Ghoulardi Film Company Distributor: Focus Features Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps , Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson , Harriet Sansom Harris, Lujza Richter, Julia Davis Director-screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson Producers: Joanne Sellar , Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi Executive producers: Adam Somner , Peter Heslop , Chelsea Barnard Production designer: Mark Tildesley Costume designer: Mark Bridges Editor: Dylan Tichenor Music: Jonny Greenwood Casting: Cassandra Kulukundis
Rated R, 132 minutes
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Phantom Thread Review
02 Feb 2018
Throughout his career, Paul Thomas Anderson has been consistently fascinated by unconventional family units. We had Boogie Nights ’ motley clan of porn-biz misfits, Magnolia ’s multi-stranded unravelling of blood-ties, There Will Be Blood ’s monstrous father figure who isn’t even a real father, and The Master ’s creepy Hubbard-ish cult. So once again we find him on that familiar ground — albeit for the first time on our side of the Atlantic, beneath the smudgy skies of a prim, well-heeled ’50s London rather than the big, bright blue of California.
Given the presence of the semi-mythical Method maestro Daniel Day-Lewis (who of course couldn’t play the role until he’d at least learned to sew a hundred buttons), you might expect Phantom Thread to feel closest to There Will Be Blood . But while Reynolds Woodcock is no less intricately observed and realised than Blood’s Daniel Plainview, he’s far from the fearsome, brutal, roaring patriarch. He’s more of a spoiled-son type: a soft-spoken, petulant man-child, pining for his long-dead mother, mothered by his seemingly starchy sister (Mike Leigh regular Lesley Manville, who brings careful warmth to a role that might otherwise have been an ice-queen caricature), and courting younger women in the belief that they’ll be as pliant as the fabrics he tugs and cuts into such fabulous gowns. “You have no breasts,” he observes of his newest muse Alma (Luxembourgian actor Vicky Krieps). “No, no, you’re perfect. My job is to give you some. If I choose to.”
Phantom Thread becomes more Krieps' film than Day-Lewis’, and not because she’s a show-stealer.
This would most obviously set Phantom Thread to be yet another cinematic study in female exploitation and abuse, with Alma consumed and spat out by this dark-hearted older man of power. But instead Anderson’s more interested in the warp and weft of a relationship between someone who appears that way, and a woman who is much stronger than he at first thinks.
Krieps is a real find: a virtual unknown (thereby giving Alma maximum ingénue-ity) who can hold her own opposite a titan like Day-Lewis in a movie which, for the most part, is an intense, chamber-piece two-hander. Day-Lewis’ prominence on awards-season nominee lists is unsurprising; but it feels unjust that Krieps hasn’t received more recognition. Phantom Thread becomes more her film than Day-Lewis’, and that’s not because she’s a show-stealer. Without giving too much away, the narrative ultimately becomes a slow transition of emotional power.
Throughout, Krieps treats Alma’s on-screen evolution less as a metamorphosis than a deftly gradual unveiling. There is rich, black comedy in her tiffs with Reynolds, for example, with one occurring during the best asparagus-related scene since American Beauty , as a surprise dinner for the weary, fussy designer is treated as “an ambush”.
There also develops, fascinatingly, a perverse, gothic tinge to her increasingly manipulative acts of affection. “I have to love him in my own way,” Alma insists to Cyril. Reynolds’ life up to this point has been contained, controlled and — as the crisp, white uniforms of his numerous seamstresses suggest — sterile. Alma wants to bring the full, messy bloom of nature into his world.
In certain respects, the movie bears a relation to last year’s My Cousin Rachel , though it’s not quite so robustly stylised as Roger Michell’s film. Besides, Anderson says he was influenced by another Daphne du Maurier work, Rebecca (or at least Hitchcock’s adaptation of it). So, for all its messed-up-family familiarity, it does feel like a major change for the director, into a fresh setting and genre that suit him well.
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The Claustrophobic Elegance of “Phantom Thread”
By Anthony Lane
The new Paul Thomas Anderson film, “Phantom Thread,” is about many things: clothing, sewing, driving, the risk of love, the exercise of power, and, above all, breakfast. “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” So says Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a celebrated fashion designer, who lives and works in a tranquil London square, and who despises any threat to that tranquillity. It is morning, and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who helps to run the business, is at the breakfast table, as is a plate of iced buns, which he disdains, and an elegant young woman named Johanna (Camilla Rutherford). For her, likewise, he appears to have lost his appetite.
Breakfast No. 2. Reynolds drives to the coast and arrives, famished, at a hotel restaurant. A waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) takes his order, which goes on forever, like the end credits of a Marvel movie. Welsh rabbit with a poached egg; bacon, scones, butter, cream, jam; a pot of Lapsang souchong. Pause. “And some sausages,” he adds. Only Day-Lewis could make a list of foodstuffs sound like the Ten Commandments. Alma blushes easily, yet there is no twitch of shyness; she bears herself with confidence, and, when Reynolds asks if she will dine with him that night, she accepts. Thus does she enter the sanctum, or the gentlemanly minefield, of his life.
And so to the third breakfast, later in the film. By now, Alma has become his favorite model and muse. We are back in London. A ruminative Reynolds sits with his sister. Beside them, Alma is buttering toast, with firm swipes of the knife, and, to judge by the expression on Reynolds’s face, every swipe is like a nail being driven into his flesh. (Anderson, to be honest, cheats a little here; the scraping is so loud that a microphone must have been hidden in the marmalade.) On the basis of this upsetting scene, two things can be assumed. First, Alma is fast turning into another Johanna, and will soon be dismissed from Reynolds’s service. And, second, he is, in his own way, a perfect specimen of the nobly suffering artist, who will not sacrifice his craft, let alone submit his will, to the dictates of somebody else. Both assumptions are wrong.
“Phantom Thread” is Anderson’s eighth feature, and the first to be set almost exclusively in Britain. The era is the mid-nineteen-fifties, which means that the gowns created by Reynolds for his wealthy (and sometimes royal) clients are of a rarefied and formal allure that feels as distant as the court of Versailles. Not the least of the movie’s joys is the roster of unflappable seamstresses, with years of experience, on whom he relies; in the course of one especially taxing night, they have to repair a wedding dress that has been tainted and torn, to be ready by 9 A.M. As for Day-Lewis, he strikes the eye as ineffably dapper, with a hint of the sacerdotal; in the opening minutes, he pulls on a magenta sock, buffs the toe cap of a shoe, and, wielding a pair of hairbrushes, sweeps back his lightly silvered locks with solemn care, as if robing himself in a vestry. Yet this is not a film that dwells on style. It is a film possessed by a fear that style alone, or the quest for it, can cramp the soul.
As in “ The Master ” (2012) and the more jovial “ Inherent Vice ” (2014), Anderson conducts much of the action in closeup. “I like to see who I’m talking to,” Reynolds says, wiping off Alma’s lipstick, as the camera looms so near that it might as well be angling for a kiss. Is that doting, or invasive? One welcome trait of the film is that its erotic politics are evenly poised, and that, in the matter of scrutiny, the woman gives as good as she gets. “If you want to have a staring contest with me,” Alma cautions Reynolds, “you will lose.” Time and again, throughout the story, they wrestle for the upper hand. “I think you’re only acting strong,” she says, to which he replies, “I am strong.” Although there is no visible sex or violence, the movie feels extreme in the way that productions of Ibsen can feel extreme, as well-dressed, well-behaved people try to colonize one another with a tenacity that borders on the savage. “There is an air of quiet death in this house,” Reynolds says. Hedda Gabler would not disagree.
Another point of reference is Hitchcock. As Cyril, Lesley Manville is a paragon of frosty decorum, and one glance at her sombre high-necked dresses and her tightly coiled hair sends you back to Mrs. Danvers, in “ Rebecca ” (1940). Then, there is Jonny Greenwood’s music, largely for piano and strings, which is far less jagged than the work he composed for Anderson in “ There Will Be Blood ” (2007), and summons, instead, some of the troubled lushness that Franz Waxman brought to his scores for “Rebecca” and “ Suspicion ” (1941). More than anything, however, what “Phantom Thread” borrows from Hitchcock is his clammy-comic touch—a sense that love, at its fiercest, can be both protective and toxic. Remember Claude Rains’s terrifying mother, in “ Notorious ” (1946), slipping something nasty into his wife’s coffee, or the glowing glass of milk that Cary Grant takes upstairs to Joan Fontaine, in “Suspicion,” like a poisoned chalice. Alma, in Krieps’s winning performance, all rosy cheeks and sensible smiles, is definitely not a Hitchcock heroine, yet even she will go to venomous lengths, we realize, to keep her man. Weirder still, Reynolds will play along.
The upshot is that “Phantom Thread,” though expert and engrossing, is also cloistral and sickly, and I found myself fighting for fresh air. There are notable excursions, including an Alpine holiday where Reynolds gets to swathe himself in immaculate knitwear, plus a New Year’s costume ball, in Chelsea, but the first is like a snowy stage set and the second is as writhingly oppressive as one of Fellini’s Roman jamborees. If anything does snap the claustrophobic spell, it is Reynolds’s road trips, when he guns his beauteous British sports car, a red Bristol, along country byways, with the camera peering forward and ravening up the miles. Then we have the pleasure of observing the smile that comes and goes on his handsome face, as if he were tacitly conceding that, yes, these genteel shenanigans, done in the name of a few pricey frocks for a handful of spoiled clients, are absurd. You hear a similar hint of mockery in the querulous fluting of his voice—“Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?”
Yet, despite everything, we continue to cling to the problems and pursuits of this obsessive dandy. And why? Simply because there has never been an actor as obsessive as Day-Lewis. He dons the role as if it were a handmade suit. I happen to revere him most in motion, as in the hotfooted thrill of “ The Last of the Mohicans ” (1992), but he is equally a champion of stillness, and he seems, like certain rare sportsmen, to be preternaturally blessed with time—enough time, that is, to take stock of a situation, while people bustle around him, and to ponder his next move. His thoughts look more dramatic than other actors’ deeds, and his deeds are done with a deliberated grace. If it is true, as Day-Lewis has declared, that “Phantom Thread” will be his final movie, we will miss him when he retires from the game that he has crowned. He is the Federer of film. ♦
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Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, and Regina Hall to Lead New Paul Thomas Anderson Movie
The film begins shooting in early 2024.
The Big Picture
- Paul Thomas Anderson's newest project with DiCaprio and Penn is set to be his most commercial attempt yet.
- The film is based on Anderson's own script and will also star Regina Hall. It will have an extensive ensemble cast.
- Warner Bros. has greenlit the production, making this an exciting development in Anderson's career.
Paul Thomas Anderson has his newest project, and it looks set to be his most commercial attempt to date, after Warner Bros. greenlit the production of an as-yet-untitled movie for the director which will begin filming next weekend. The movie will star Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn , alongside Regina Hall , and is based off a script written by Anderson himself, and produced by Anderson, Sara Murphy and Adam Somner . Deadline were the first to exclusively report the news. The film is also said to feature an extensive ensemble cast, which has yet to be finalised.
The movie's title has not been revealed yet, and details about the plot are being kept confidential. However, it is known to be set in modern times and is considered the most mainstream project Anderson has undertaken to date , featuring a budget appropriate to both the scope of the film and the cast he is looking to add. This project emerged from the partnership that Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy , co-chair/CEOs of Warner Bros Picture Group, formed with PTA during the production of Licorice Pizza at MGM . That film received three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director for PTA.
DiCaprio has just come off Killers of the Flower Moon for Martin Scorsese , while he is attached to another project with the director — The Wager — which follows the journey of a group of 30 men who survive a shipwreck and struggle for survival on a deserted island, only to face accusations of rebellion upon their return. Penn's most recent work is the Christy Hall- directed Daddio , in which he stars alongside Dakota Johnson, while he's also part of Gonzo Girl which was directed by Patricia Arquette and is produced by his future co-star, Regina Hall.
What Has Paul Thomas Anderson Directed?
Anderson is an acclaimed director, who has received nominations for 11 Oscars, among numerous other awards. His filmography is masterful, and the prospect of working with an actor in the calibre of DiCaprio in his prime is an exciting one for fans. Most recently, Anderson directed Licorice Pizza , while his previous film, Phantom Thread , was nominated for six Academy Awards, with the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville particularly acclaimed. Day-Lewis also won an Oscar for Anderson in his iconic turn as Daniel Plainview in 2007's There Will Be Blood , while the director's earlier works Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love continue to stand the test of time.
Collider will have more updates on Anderson's newest film as they are released. Phanton Thread is streaming on Netflix in the U.S.
Watch on Netflix
Leonardo DiCaprio and Regina Hall to Star in Paul Thomas Anderson's Next Film
H e’s not the most prolific of American filmmakers, but he may be one of our best. Paul Thomas Anderson has made just one film in the 2020s, and only 3 in the last 15 years, but every single one has been a cinematic event. (Those last three, if you’ve forgotten, were Inherent Vice , Phantom Thread , and Licorice Pizza. Pretty good trio of films!)
And now Anderson is reportedly prepping a new project, although apparently one being made under a great deal of secrecy. We don’t have any idea what the movie is about or what it’s called — which is not totally unheard of for Anderson — but word leaked today that the movie would be headlined by an impressive bunch of actors including Leonardo DiCaprio — making his first appearance in an Anderson film — plus Regina Hall and Sean Penn . Production of the movie is supposedly set to begin very soon.
READ MORE: 10 Great Short Films By Famous Directors
According to Variety , the only thing we know about the subject of the film is that it “has a contemporary setting and will be an ensemble piece.” They also note that the project is so secret that “Warner Bros. has tried to keep the mere fact that it was producing the movie under wraps for months. But its price tag has raised eyebrows, with insiders saying the budget is approaching $100 million.”
If that’s accurate, that would be a significant increase in the scope of what Anderson is up to. Anderson’s last film, Licorice Pizza , was a tale of growing up in Southern California in the 1970s, and cost a reported $40 million to produce. ( Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread cost $20 million and $35 million, respectively.)
Still, whatever Anderson is doing, it should be interesting. Pretty much everything he has made to date has ranged from good to brilliant; there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
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