Phantom Thread (15)

After watching a film, I normally like to wait a few days before writing up my review. With Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest epic, I decided to buck the trend and write my review immediately after watching

I normally wait a few days to allow the film’s thoughts, themes, ideas, characters and meanings really soak into my consciousness, giving me the best chance of reviewing and understanding the film as fairly as possible.

With ‘Phantom Thread’ , I feel that I will never understand the characters fully. This is no criticism: it’s to the film’s credit that a film so labyrinthine and deceptively complicated has been crafted. But more on that later…

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film before retiring from acting forever (it seems that this time he means it too, having come out of retirement to star in 2002’s ‘Gangs Of New York’).

If this is to be his swan-song, then WHAT a film to go out on!

I could throw all the adjectives under the sun at this film, it still wouldn’t come close to covering quite how brilliant it is. Nuanced, layered, impenetrable, sumptuous, these are just four that could try to describe this masterclass in marvellous film-making.

This is a film to be experienced, not just watched.

Thanks to the most perfectly behaved cinema audience I have ever encountered – not one person uttered a single word during the film, nor crunched their food, checked their phones, or even went to the toilet during the 130 minute running time, suggesting I had a very like-minded audience on my side – this film was, quite possibly, the most perfect film of the year. Granted, it’s only Feburary, but any film after this will have to go a long way to top this astonishing film.

As usual, the plot will not be detailed here, other than to say that the acting world has lost a dream pairing of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis (re-teaming after 2007’s two-time Oscar winning, eight times nominated ‘There Will Be Blood’), the latter here playing the softly-spoken and impeccably mannered tyrannical titan of the Ladies tailoring industry of 1950’s London.

Watching DD-L and PTA heighten each others’ work is just a magnificent experience and it’s already hard to imagine anybody else playing Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock, a man possibly more obsessively commited to his craft than even DD-L (and that is saying something: this is the man who got a six-month apprenticeship as a butcher in New York to prepare for ‘Gangs Of New York’, after all) and, my word, do the results show.

DD-L looks like a master-tailor, draws like one, even has the chapped finger skin of one. He looks remarkably like Jeremy Irons with his swept-back grey hair as he glowers from behind his thick-rimmed spectacles, the veins in his head pulsing to the point of bursting at any given moment (just don’t crunch your toast too loudly, or even speak to him at breakfast!).

Pernickty, obsessive, masterful, Mother-fixated and bafflingly complicated, DD-L and PTA have created a character to pore over and (try to) dissect long after the final credits roll.

Ice-cold, distant and brutally unsympathetic, Reynold is perfectly paired with his Sister Cyril (a magnificently steely Lesley Manville), the two almost battling each other – very quietly and oh-so politely, of course – to see who can be the coldest, most impenetrable, almost sociopathic, of the two.

Special mention must go to little-known Luxembourgian actress Vicky Krieps for stepping into the proverbial ring with the three-times Best Actor Oscar-winner (the only actor in history to do so) and faring remarkably well. She is absolutely fantastic in her sympathetic and down-trodden role and deserves all the accolades heading her way too for her remarkable and restrained performance.

The chemistry, interplay and anger between the two positively fizzes off the screen.

Though it is well worth mentioning that this is not a film of explosive arguments and bust-ups. There are no stand-out scenes as such (though the “surprise dinner” scene is pretty memorable).

No, much like 2008’s ‘Revolutionary Road’, this is a long, slow and utterly absorbing drama of anger, repression and quiet disintergration.

The sound design (always one of my favourite aspects of any film!) is magnificent and is particularly relevant to Woodcock’s character here, given his obsession with excessive noises: the stitching, the way characters ‘ butter their toast or pour a glass of water all add to the ambiguous menace that permeates the whole film, resulting in nuance and meaning in almost every scene of the film and it is worth watching if only for this.

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood puts his ‘1950’s chamber music’ head on to deliver a dazzling Oscar-nominated score which is complicit, inventive and geniuinely authentic. It sounds like it was composed by somebody else altogether, rather than a 47 year old man from Oxford. It morphs and evolves along with the characters and sits beautifully alongside the restrained use of classical music in the film, without ever becoming showy or intrusive.

So, all-in-all, an absolutely astonishing piece of film-making that almost leaves you on the emotional ‘sidelines’ as you feel unable to truly feel sorry for anybody involved (maybe this was PTA’s point?).

Absorbing and sumptuous, soothing and seductive, with bafflingly complicated characters, this is a film to be put on in a dark, quiet room and simply let its subtle magnificence wash over you across repeat viewings.

Damn-near perfect film-making, DD-L’s final film is a stone-cold masterpiece, in more ways than one.

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