Oscar Quest Movie Review: Phantom Thread
Six nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
This movie is exquisite. The acting, the script, the set design, the costuming, the music—transcendent. I could babble superlatives all day long about Phantom Thread. I’ll try to be more specific.
First, I was swept away by the music. This is not the first thing I usually notice about a movie. (So many times I have watched the final music credits roll by and wondered how I missed so much of it .) But the piano piece that opens and closes this film is the most beautiful movie music I have ever heard. Unforgettable. It ushers us in and out of the film on a cloud, its ethereal nature bookending this story of elegance and the creative soul. In most movies, you’re not really supposed to notice the non-diegetic music. It’s just there for mood. But here it is as important as the characters themselves as it weaves itself like smoke in and out of the action. I would love to experience this film with my eyes closed one time just to savor the soundtrack.
The camera is a busy entity as well with close-ups the norm. We get in so tight to faces that we feel as if we can touch them ourselves. It’s like a Hitchcock camera sometimes with many masterful moments—some that made me uncomfortable when characters, particularly Lesley Manville as sister Cyril, seemed to invade my personal space right where I sat. The camera keeps us close to the action always, as if we are in the work room, at the breakfast table, tiptoeing around the fabulous handmade wedding dress for her royal highness, figuring out how to get the man’s attention, wondering how to butter our toast without scraping the knife against the bread.
All of this, along with the period set design and the costuming, lay the groundwork for a story whose main focus is the development of character. This is what matters most to Phantom Thread. And who better to star in a film of character than Daniel Day-Lewis? No one.
Everything centers, it seems, on the character of Reynolds Woodcock, the designer, owner and creative force behind the fashion house that bears his name. His customers are the wealthy, the royal, the well-connected. His work is not work to him. It is life. He is working always, just as he breathes. He even lives in the house where the work is done and his employees enter his home every day to make his creations come to life. His customers come here to do business and to marvel at the finished products and the man who makes them. It is a world within a world.
If you are close to Reynolds Woodcock, you may find that it is difficult to hold his attention. Such is the nature of the creative spirit. It is at its happiest when it is productive. And it is at its most productive when it can escape all distraction. Difficult to do when there are other people in the world.
Enter Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, who strives to make a life for herself in Reynolds Woodcock’s self-involved world. This is Alma’s story. She is our entry, our focus and our eyes and ears. It is her quiet steadfastness, her unwavering determination to claim and hold her place in this world that makes this story possible.
Phantom Thread is a film that I would like to see again. There is so much to experience here—the fabrics, the faces, the sounds, the choreography of elements in the frame. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is so nuanced, so beautiful, that his every movement bears watching. He says that this will be his last film. Too bad for us if that’s true.
Phantom Thread is a film about how to live and how to love. It’s about finding ways to make alterations–to make things fit. It’s about discovering what works.
Sometimes, to do it right, you just have to figure out how to get someone’s attention.
This movie has mine.
P.S. Frasier fans—look for Harriet Sansom Harris, better known (to me, anyway) as Bebe Glazer, Frasier’s vulture of an agent, in a small role as Barbara Rose, an unconventional customer of the House of Woodcock. She rocks it!