Paul Thomas Anderson has been deemed one of the greatest directors of his generation by critics and audience members alike. While he has directed only a few films during his 20-year career, all of his movies have received critical acclaim, and a few of them have even been regarded as some of the best films of the past decade. With this already impressive lineup, he recently released his eighth movie, Phantom Thread, and gave us one of his biggest cinematic accomplishments to date.
Set in 1950s London, the film follows dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he works in a controlled environment under the watch of his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). When he travels to the English countryside during the holidays, he falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps). But as his relationship with her wavers, Alma’s presence soon becomes a disturbance in his work environment.
Anderson’s film tells a tale of intimacy and heartbreak as it follows the relationship between Reynolds and Alma. Filled with plot twists and shocking, suspenseful moments, Phantom Thread illustrates the toxicity of obsessiveness, as both characters illustrate this behavior in different ways.
The film simply plays out, and the audience is often and suddenly caught off guard because even the film’s most surprising scenes are tonally consistent with the film’s calm nature. The film’s twisted and emotionally mature plot twists seem to have earned it its R-rating.
Throughout the film, scenes are framed differently to distinguish disruptiveness in the relationship, such as when Woodcock is working meticulously and Alma disrupts his precision.
In contrast, the film presents a more crystal clear image of Woodcock when he is focused on his work. At the beginning of the movie, the lighting reveals the shiny details of Woodcock when he prepares for the day, and a sharp contrast arises between the dark and light colors. When Alma starts to interfere with his perfect work mentality, the scene begins to blend the contrast between light and dark, and the film transitions into a more grainy look.
In his fourth collaboration with Anderson, Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the film’s music and gives us one of the most emotional soundtracks of 2017. Each track finds the balance between emanating a scene’s emotional weight and creating recognizable ballads for the audience, as every instrument conveys something different in each song. In the piece “House of Woodcock,” the flowing sounds of the piano capture an intimate feeling while the orchestral strings evoke the time period’s elegance.
Of course, at the forefront of all of these impressive elements is the film’s dynamic cast. In this film, Anderson gives viewers the antithesis of his previous film Inherent Vice. Instead of cramming in many big-name Hollywood stars and being muddled with excessive padding, Phantom Thread is tightly focused on one plot with fewer locations and three major characters.
While Manville and Krieps give strong performances as their respective characters, it’s Day-Lewis who stands out the most. Not only did he learn how to sew a Balenciaga dress from scratch in preparation for the role, but his subtle, yet expressive nature is present with his line delivery. Without resorting to overly histrionic behavior, the English actor still demands the viewer’s attention as he takes control of each scene. And, with the recent announcement of his plan to retire from acting, he could not have chosen a more perfect film with which to conclude his 46-year acting career.
Indeed, Phantom Thread is easily the best film of 2017, as its attention to detail in every scene is palpable. The film isn’t as ambitious as There Will Be Blood or The Master, but it still feels epic in-scale with the framing of every scene. Phantom Thread is a perceptive film that resonates with you long after you watch it, even if you’re not immediately impressed by it. It’s a rare work of art that only a master like Anderson could’ve so intricately crafted.