Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated R
130 Mins.
Focus Features

 "Phantom Thread" an Almost Unprecedented Intimate Masterpiece 
Add to favorites

I remember waking up in the recovery room and reaching down hoping that I would magically feel the presence of my right foot, though intellectually I knew that there was no reason for such a hope. I knew that this one remaining foot, having existed in my world for just over one year longer than the left foot lost to a bone infection called osteomyelitis, was beyond saving and I knew as I drifted off to my anesthesia-induced slumber that I would awaken to an entirely different body than I had ever known. 

I had already been experiencing what they called "phantom pain" since my first amputation, though the considerable pain that had been my constant companion due to my life-threatening infection had minimized any trauma associated with these unusual yet predictable pains. 

The amputation of my second foot was different. 

I woke up and I instantly knew everything had changed. I remember reaching down trying to touch the limbs that felt present, yet experiencing a rather traumatic shock when all I could feel was the heavily bandaged legs that remained. 

I have heard phantom pain described as "feeling that which is not there." 

I respectfully disagree. 

Phantom pain is a reminder that your body is more than the external expression of your physical being that everyone sees. Phantom pain is, and I believe this with every cell within my being, one of the most miraculous ways in which the human body communicates the simple message "I am still here." Phantom pain is a glorious living and breathing reminder that one's body cannot possibly be contained within the skeletal structures that make up our physical being. 

There is more. There is always more. 

The same is true, I suppose, within the world of Daniel Day-Lewis's Reynolds Woodcock, the 1950's London-based high-end dress designer at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. 

In the world of fashion, "phantom thread" refers, at least in some manner, to those aspects of design that remain unseen by the naked eye and, perhaps one could even say, untouched by the human hands. They are present. They are essential. They are very, very real and they could be said to, I suppose, help to shape and define and give wholeness to the design. 

It is unquestionably intentional that Anderson has set Phantom Thread within the world of high fashion, a setting where he could most fully explore the myriad of ways in which this concept of "phantom" could be explored most fully and most immersively and, yes, most entertainingly. 

We are introduced to Daniel Day-Lewis's Reynolds Woodcock as he tires of his current muse, the latest in a long line of muses with whom he shares only as much of himself as he's willing to share and of whom he inevitably grows tired of intolerant. Daniel Day-Lewis could practically take a bath with this character, though it is much to his credit and his seemingly limitless talent that creates one of his most satisfying characters to date and one of Anderson's most fully realized, intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant, characters to be found within any of his eight feature films. 

If is true that Day-Lewis intends to retire following this motion picture, we have been gifted with a performance that will without doubt last throughout the ages. 

While this may sound as if Day-Lewis gives a grand performance, quite the opposite is true. Day-Lewis is far too brilliant of an actor and an interpreter of character to create Woodcock as a larger than life, wholly domineering presence. While it is true that Woodcock could be described, especially in the earlygoing, as the perfect melding together of toxic masculinity companioned by aristocratic entitlement, both Anderson and Day-Lewis are smart enough to realize that such a character isn't particularly interesting nor does it radiate the authenticity that one nearly always associates with an Anderson film. 

Indeed, Reynolds Woodcock is much more.

If you've ever immersed yourself into Paul Thomas Anderson's world, then you already know that Anderson himself feels to most of his fans like a kinder, gentler variation of most of his central characters. Notoriously disciplined and visionary, there's nary a single aspect of an Anderson film that doesn't feel completely and utterly intentional even if one doesn't particularly resonate with that particular intention. From his longtime collaboration to D.P. Robert Elswit to original scores that become a vital character unto themselves, sitting down in a movie theater and surrendering to a Paul Thomas Anderson film is, I'd dare say, practically a spiritual experience. 

From the first moments in which we meet Reynolds Woodcock, Reynolds Woodcock immediately feels like a Paul Thomas Anderson character and, by god, within moments we begin to realize that we can't envision anyone else but Daniel Day-Lewis bringing this character to life. Woodcock's eccentricities bordering on obsessions are catered to by his loyal sister and business partner Cyril, played to perfection by a sublime Lesley Manville, whose presence as a strong yet humane presence in his life ensures that every aspect of Woodcock's necessarily ordered life will remain necessarily ordered because he's a fucking stable genius and you don't mess with fucking stable genius. Even when Woodcock tires of his current muse, it is Cyril who will be doing the dastardly deed in a mostly undastardly way to further ensure that her brother's need for some semblance of peace is never disrupted. 

Alma is different, though such a difference is not readily apparent when Woodcock first encounters the Eastern European server at a bed-and-breakfast and is instantly drawn to her. Anderson has always been extraordinary at creating the flawed vulnerability of otherwise strong characters. With Phantom Thread, he has crafted three such characters with Reynolds Woodcock, Cyril, and Vicky Krieps's Alma. 

Hopefully, you've discerned for yourself by now that I'm intentionally not weaving much plot revelation into the body of this story as Anderson films, in particular, demand less awareness of any story particulars. Luxembourg-based actress Krieps is simply exceptional here, perhaps the film's finest performance out of both plot necessity and pure talent, and the joy of watching Phantom Thread unfold is in watching the labyrinthian ways in which both Woodcock and Alma immerse themselves in the inevitable emotional warfare while creating, slowly but surely, the rules within both can co-exist peacefully or not. 

The brilliance of Phantom Thread, and let me state unequivocally that Phantom Thread is a brilliant film, is that with Phantom Thread Anderson has crafted a love story that is truly a love story in all the ways in which love stories are seldom, if ever, actually portrayed on the big screen. Phantom Thread's love story is intoxicating and immersive, uncomfortably intimate and more uncomfortably distant, occasionally kind and perhaps more often cruel, and brimming with toxic humanity yet bathing in the hopefulness of authenticity and the ever present phantom threads that construct those invisible to the eye and unreachable to the hands places in a relationship that make us fight like hell for love and believe in it even when it doesn't make any kind of sense. 

Both Day-Lewis and Krieps are simply wonderful here, in many ways polar opposites yet drawn to each other in both their broken and unbroken spaces. How you view Phantom Thread may, in fact, depend entirely upon your own phantom threads and even writing such a sentence leaves me mumbling "mind blown" as I write it. 

For Phantom Thread, Anderson largely hands his own cinematography duties himself. The result is a film that feels almost impossibly intimate and less about the camera and more about the relationships. Rest assured that the lensing work doesn't suffer, not at all, as Anderson immerses the film in muted textures that support both its luxuriousness and its sense of existing within a very real world. 

One can't speak highly enough of Jonny Greenwood's absolutely stellar original score, a score that feels, certainly more than any other score in 2017, as if it companions each and every character in each and every scene. The word "perfect" comes to mind. 

Phantom Thread is one of those films where you feel compelled to acknowledge the production team, folks who too often go unacknowledged in reviews, because their work here is simply superlative (I was running out of superlatives, ya know?). Costuming by Mark Bridges is lush and beautiful, period appropriate and incredibly sublime. Mark Tildesley's production design is exquisite, while Dylan Tichenor's editing work is brilliantly realized as he magnificently utilizes silence to create Anderson's key concept of "phantom" as a character unto itself. 

Quite simply, there's nothing about Phantom Thread that didn't completely blow me away. 

From the layers upon layers served up by Day-Lewis's Reynolds Woodcock, an intimate and more inward jerkwad with shards of humanity, humor, charm and quiet vulnerabilities, to this absolute breakthrough performance by Krieps, who absolutely gives a performance that should be remembered for years to come that radiates intelligence and passion and warmth and humor and even a little horrifying. I would be remiss if I left out the always marvelous Lesley Manville, who is simply top notch as Cyril and one must give kudos to Anderson for ensuring a balanced portrayal of her character and an intelligent, satisfying journey through this unusual adult sibling relationship. 

Penned by Anderson himself, though it is believed that an uncredited Day-Lewis worked collaboratively with Anderson in developing the script over the years, Phantom Thread is, almost impossibly to imagine, a cinematic effort representing tremendous growth for Anderson, already regarded as one of contemporary cinema's most gifted filmmakers. 

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. This is a Paul Thomas Anderson film and, by god, we're not about to immerse ourselves in all that sentimental bullshit. Love is weird and unpredictable. Love is funny and frivolous. Love is occasionally mean-spirited and not always apologetic about it. Love can be evil and ugly and bullying and unpredictable. 

But, by god, there is love. There really, really is love. 

There's nothing else to say ... Phantom Thread is a masterpiece. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic