Director Paul Thomas Anderson films usually walk a fine line between unusual storytelling and a more calculated slow burn. He’s always been in danger of losing this dangerous balance, but his filmography has usually produced successes such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and There Will Be Blood. His newest film: Phantom Thread is another bold gamble, but with the help of Daniel Day Lewis.
Phantom Thread is the story of fictional fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), who lives in 1950s London. Woodcock is an incredibly domineering and calculating genius, an extreme workaholic with a penchant for young and beautiful women. On a retreat to the countryside one time, Woodcock falls in love with a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). As Woodcock plays around with Alma he realizes that she’s more of a match for his arrogance and presence than all the previous women have been, save for his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville).
Anderson takes on this period peace with a very calm pace, so that most mainstream audiences will be bored out of their wits. This film certainly feels like it belongs in another decade. However, to those more tuned cinephiles, the calculations by the American director and the incredible acting from the legend Day Lewis is enough to keep our attention on the screen. And it must be said that Vicky Krieps, a relatively unknown actress, more than holds her own against Day Lewis; it’s this banter between the two actors that is the center of the film and it holds up magnificently.
However, after a while you can’t help but feel that this slow pace and admiration of Woodcock’s craft and obsession isn’t going anywhere, and thus Anderson suddenly tips into an unexpected and tonally different ending that leaves you squirming in your seat as the credits roll. Most people will be put off by the finale, simply because it comes out of nowhere, Anderson isn’t able to parlay the message of obsession and art that his two characters have in the end, simply because of his floppy execution.
So in the end, Phantom Thread was a bit misguided. There is a promising period film for most of the run time, but then an appalling finale loses viewers. Day Lewis brings another professional performance in what was said would be his final performance (I call bs), and Vicky Krieps holds her own in the female lead with a refreshingly bold presence.