Well-Acted and Haunting, ‘Phantom Thread’ May Not Be for Everyone

Phantom_ThreadSteven Soderbergh has faked retirement a handful of times, so here’s hoping Daniel Day-Lewis follows in his path.

“Phantom Thread” is the latest film from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (his first since 2014’s “Inherent Vice”) and actor Daniel Day-Lewis (his first performance since 2012’s “Lincoln”); the pair previously worked together on “There Will Be Blood.” The film follows a renowned dressmaker (Day-Lewis) in 1955 London who falls in love with a waitress (Vicky Krieps), only to realize the two have self-destructive tendencies.

Despite being some of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the modern era, if not all-time, both Anderson and Day-Lewis take their time between projects and selecting things worthy of their efforts. Day-Lewis is known for disappearing into characters using method acting while Anderson is praised by some as the Kubrick of his time. Anderson’s films all have a specific feel and way about them, if you’ve seen one then you know what I mean, and “Phantom Thread” is no different. It is a slow-burn, meticulous and lets actors do their thing, but the dark humor and tension in the air are the real scene-stealers. It isn’t art that will win Anderson his first career Oscar, nor will Day-Lewis likely give a retirement speech on stage at the Dolby Theatre in March, but thanks to great supporting performances and some engrossing costume and dialogue, “Phantom Thread” is a haunting experience.

Daniel Day-Lewis is respected by all in the industry but I think that “Lincoln” is really the only film of his I can say I was able to see and discuss at the time of its release (this is only his seventh film since 1997, if you haven’t picked up on the trend I keep getting at). Here he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a man seemingly married to his work. His Reynolds is finicky, flamboyant and very particular and Day-Lewis does a good job at making us care about him even though it becomes more and more clear that something is not right in his head and there’s a reason he’s alone.

It is a fine performance and one that I’m sure any other actor would kill to give, but it hardly screams “swan song” for the crescendo of Day-Lewis’ career; maybe we’re just all so used to seeing him disappear into strange roles that him playing a seemingly normal working man is white noise.

The real stars of the show are the supporting women, Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps. Manville plays Day-Lewis’ sister and right off the bat we know there is something eerie about her and the relationship between her and her brother. Always seeming to be planning something behind-the-scenes, every sequence Manville shows up in you aren’t quite sure what could happen and what she has going on behind her dagger eyes.

Krieps starts off timid and self-conscious but quickly learns to stand up for herself against Reynolds and his demanding ways. She, along with Day-Lewis, has a quick, dry response to many snarky comments that had my audience laughing, often hysterically.

The costumes are as fancy, gorgeous and creative as one would expect them to be in a film about a dressmaker in London’s couture world, and Anderson’s cinematography has a grainy tint to it partnered with a lot of close-ups on the actors. Jonny Greenwood’s musical score is also mesmerizing, mixing piano and violin, even if at times the sound mixing is off and it overpowers some dialogue.

What may lose some viewers on a film like this is the narrative. Like many of Anderson’s films it is hardly a straight-forward storyline with a clear beginning-middle-ending and the climax itself may be underwhelming for certain people (and viewed as brilliant by others). The first act is much better paced than the second and while it didn’t make me enjoy the film any less there were a few points I got tempted to check my watch.

“Phantom Thread” is another solid entry into the filmography of two masters of the art and two welcome supporting performances from actresses that may not be well-known by mainstream audiences. I won’t say I will ever get an urge to watch this again but it is a different kind of movie and those are always nice to check out; plus knowingly saying a possible goodbye to a legend of the screen is not an opportunity you get very often.

Critic’s Grade: B+

Focus Features

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