Sunday, February 11, 2018

'Phantom Thread' Is an Exquisite Film Featuring a Twisted, Unconventional Romance

Legendary method actor Daniel Day-Lewis has already announced his retirement.  Time will tell if he will truly remain retired, as it’s not unusual for celebrated figures to come out of retirement.  Till then, Phantom Thread serves as his final film.

Set during post-war 1950’s London, the plot centers on Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a much-renowned haute couture dressmaker.  Though charming and brilliant in his craft, he’s also overbearing, obsessive, and eccentric.  Women come and go through his life.  When she no longer inspires him – or, worse, distracts him – he sends her away.  One day, he meets a young, strong-willed waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), and he may finally have met his match.

Can Phantom Thread be considered a romantic love story?  Yes, in a sense, it can.  But it’s not “romantic” in the typical meaning of the word.  It presents the most remarkably twisted, unconventional romantic dynamic I’ve seen in film since 2002’s Secretary.  It’s a dark love story.  Reynolds and Alma’s relationship only ultimately works because it’s fictional, and it’s designed to be logical.  But in real life, it’s arguably unhealthy and unsound.
As an Oscar-bait film, Phantom Thread has the merits of being technically exquisite.  The cinematography and production design make it visually stylish to perfection.  This aspect is what keeps the audience’s fixed on the film from start to finish.  Make no mistake: director Paul Thomas Anderson weaves the narrative as masterfully as Reynold weaves his fine dresses.  However, just like dressmaking, the process can get tedious; the beauty is only fully realized in the finished product.  And, thus, in the case of this movie, it is the visuals – assisted by John Greenwood’s spellbinding score – that make one go through any tedious parts with ease.

Like almost all of Anderson’s films, Phantom Thread has no universal appeal.  I’m sure that many mainstream audiences won’t like it.  It will come off as pretentious and boring to others.  I can’t really blame them.  But for me, it’s an immaculate, humorous, psychological period drama that serves as a pleasing Daniel Day-Lewis swan song (until he decides to come out of retirement).

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