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There are very few directors whom I have absolute faith in. The sort of directors who take subject matters we know little about and then turn them on their heads in such a way that they become something else all together. David Lynch is one, Quentin Tarantino is another and the only other director who has this ability to completely floor me with every new feature is Paul Thomas Anderson!
His latest (and if you believe the rumours, final) collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis is PHANTOM THREAD, a searingly exquisite look at 1950’s post-war London where renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.
It is hard to know where to begin when expressing my feelings about a feature like this. I’ll start with the technicalities and confirm that this film looks every bit as beautiful and assured and vital and alluring as anything PTA has done previously. The framing is masterful and shows such attention to detail, the filtering and muted colourisation lends itself perfectly to the period setting and manages to feel of the time without losing any of the immediacy needed to make it stand out. The camera is often very quiet and still, allowing the actors to really smoulder together and the intensity of some of the interactions between Reynolds and Alma is quite palpable but when the camera does decide to move it is so kinetic and so out of the blue that it bolts your senses upright and exhilarates in a way not common in usual dramas such as this.
The score and additional piano accompaniment from long time PTA collaborator Jonny Greenwood is divine and it matches the film’s sensibilities exactly. It is distinguished and strong and confident and, at times, very very beautiful. I will definitely be looking to listening to the soundtrack again soon.
Finally, we have our players. Daniel Day-Lewis is an intense presence in any film he decides to be a part of and this is no different. The character he creates here in Reynolds Woodcock is a complicated man who is a scared and sad boy in an accomplished and respected gentleman’s body and it is a strong and powerful showcase of his talents and a bittersweet note for him to retire on. It may not be as frighteningly memorable as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood or as comically dark as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting In Gangs of New York but it is another flawless portrayal completely different to anything else he has done before and just confirms his place as one of the greatest actors of all time in my opinion.
The other side of this double act is Vicky Krieps, a relatively unknown actress from Luxembourg who absolutely knocks this performance out of the park! Alma is a fantastic creation that could so easily have been one note but instead sings colours of submission, of dominance, of innocence, of intelligence, of utter confidence and timid insecurity. It is spectacular to behold and to be so new to the game and to have to play toe to toe against a powerhouse such as Day-Lewis and to come out on equal pegging is something to be applauded! I hope to see her name on the Best Actress list this year come Oscar season.
I apologise for the lengthy review as it is not my normal style however a new Paul Thomas Anderson film is always something to be celebrated and I felt compelled to do so. This film comes out on general release here in the UK on February 2nd and I cannot recommend it enough. I will be going again as soon as possible and I will be looking out for the 70mm prints which are apparently doing the rounds in certain lucky picture houses.
For more film related fun please check out my podcast Sudden Double Deep or follow me on Twitter @Benjybox.
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