Hitchcock made several very good thrillers after Vertigo but never reached the peak of this masterstroke. Spielberg has had a steady stream of fine films yet has never matched his output in 1993, which not only saw the release of one of the finest blockbusters ever made, Jurassic Park, but also the devastatingly powerful Schindler’s List. Once a director has achieved their peak their output does not stop. This is the thought that crossed my mind as I left Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest. A fascinating, odd look at 50s fashion and the toxicity behind the creative-muse relationship, it nevertheless is a film that cannot match the ferocious brilliance of There Will Be Blood, surely
The film introduces us to the fictional House of Woodcock, at the forefront of 50s British fashion. At the heart of this powerhouse is Reynolds Woodcock, a monstrous creation from Daniel Day Lewis, a dressmaker with a remarkable appetite. And one of his cravings is a muse, who arrives in the form of young waitress, Alma. Phantom Thread traces their relationship and the subtle shifts of power that plays out.
The first third of this film is incredible. The camera traces through the work of the Woodcocks, as the film beautifully establishes both the creative brilliance of Reynolds, and his pathetic immaturity. It is a marvellous performance from Day Lewis, but those words describe every time the actor is on screen. Indeed, if this is the actor’s final film he doesn’t slack but crafts a fascinating character, from his physicality through to the voice adopted. It is also early on that we are privy to some of the film’s wonderful breakfast scenes (and each is a treat), scenes that are a master class in acting. And yet once the central triptych is introduced the film becomes static, seemingly unable to build to a satisfying crescendo.
But what a triptych it is. As well as the soon-to-be-former greatest actor of his generation, we have Vicky Krieps, who inhabits
There is so much to unpick here. The film aches to be deconstructed, drifting into fairy tales and the importance of superstition, whilst retaining a grounding in the real world it seeks to inhabit.
I haven't even begun to explore the technical nuances on display. Johnny Greenwood gives another masterful score, one brimming with subtlety. The costume and set work here is simply sublime. If this was two hours of the audience watching the production of dresses I may have adored this film. Phantom Thread is a perfectly constructed diamond, beautiful, rare, cold to the touch. It is a viewing experience that is beguiling, frustrating. Objectively a masterpiece, subjectively a more troubling beast.