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Movies & TV, Arts

Movie Review: 'Phantom Thread' weaves a gothic masterpiece

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Thor Diakow Jan 12, 2018 11:12 am 617

Spellbinding. Mesmerizing. Exquisite. Just some simple words to describe director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece. This is not merely a movie but a transcendent film experience.

Set in opulent 1950s London, soon after the Second World War, Phantom Thread is essentially a gothic romance that marks one of P.T. Anderson’s more beguiling and surprisingly funny films.

Three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis – in his apparent final role – plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker at the top of his industry. He works alongside his sister Cyril (an entrancing Lesley Manville) to dress film stars, socialites, and various debutantes. But Reynolds has hit a creative stumbling block and is in desperate need of inspiration.

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Image: Universal Pictures

He soon finds it in the form of a young woman named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who becomes his muse and lover. What follows is a tumultuous affair that tests the limits of their sanity. It’s a fascinating study in domestic relations, perhaps making it Anderson’s most accessible movie and also his most humorous. The laughs, though, are sometimes pretty dark and cringeworthy.

Phantom Thread, for all intents and purposes, is a virtually flawless film and provides a lofty new benchmark for what romantic dramas can bring to the cinematic table. It’s hard to know where to start heaping the praise; let’s begin with the acting.

This marks the second collaboration of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson. The two worked together on 2007’s There Will Be Blood and you may recall Day-Lewis won his second Oscar (his first was for 1989’s My Left Foot) for his blistering performance as oil prospector Daniel Plainview. He would go on the win a third Academy Award for Lincoln in 2012.

Image: Universal Pictures

It’s been widely publicized that his work in Phantom Thread will be his last role before retirement and, if that’s the case, this is a doozy of a performance to cap his illustrious career. The actor once again churns out yet another incomparable and transformative portrayal here. He commands every single scene he’s in, whether his character is silently buffing his shoes or spouting a caustic verbal tirade.

But his female co-stars are no shrinking violets. Luxembourg-born Vicky Krieps – relatively unknown in North America – is also fantastic in the film. Keen-eyed viewers may remember her in the action-thriller Hanna. While she remains a sort of enigma to mainstream audiences, her depiction of Alma will prove to be the actress’ Hollywood breakthrough.

And the wonderful Lesley Manville, veteran of British cinema and TV, needs to be acknowledged for her quietly calculated turn as Woodcock’s sister and confidante. She brings remarkable restraint to a spellbinding and complex character. We’re never sure where Cyril’s true intentions lie and her overbearing role in her brother’s life only adds to their respective characters’ mysterious allure.

Image: Universal Pictures

So that brings us to the creative genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s responsible for numerous highly-acclaimed films over the last several decades: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master – just to name a few.

Needless to say, he’s a cinematic force of nature. Though specifically ranking his movies could be seen as a disservice, Phantom Thread certainly joins the filmmaker’s finest works.

For starters, Anderson wrote the movie’s screenplay, which is nothing short of remarkably thought-provoking. The themes and ideas presented will burrow deep inside the viewer’s psyche and linger for days, if not weeks.

Image: Universal Pictures

He’s also in top form as a director here. The fluid camerawork and sumptuous visuals – thanks largely to Mark Bridges’ splendid costume design and Mark Tildesley’s striking production design – convey a beautiful yet melancholic feeling that permeate throughout the entire story.

In short, this film is a towering achievement. It represents both an ultimate swan song for one of the most gifted actors of our time and a career-topping accomplishment for a visionary director.

Phantom Thread is truly one for the ages and earns a perfect 5 out of 5 pieces of popcorn.

Playing at a theatre near you. Rated PG (14A in Alberta) and is 130 minutes long.

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Thor Diakow
Thor Diakow is a national film critic, producer for Breakfast Television Vancouver on City, and frequent contributor to Rogers Radio.
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