Friday, December 8, 2017

Phantom Thread

In a career that spans more than 35 years Daniel Day-Lewis has raised the bar for actors. While his role as dress designer Reynolds Woodcock may not be his most notable, Daniel Day-Lewis does not disappoint in what he has stated will be his final on-screen performance. Teaming up once again with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the pair worked together previously on There Will Be Blood, the actor is terrific in the offbeat drama which I'll admit I would like more if it didn't save its best moments (at least plot-wise) for the finale.

Both Vicky Krieps, as the latest in a string of women Woodcock has brought into his life, and Lesley Manville, as Woodcock's overbearing and controlling sister, raise their games here. In terms of acting, everything about Phantom Thread is first-rate. Where Anderson gets into some trouble is at the script level where the story meanders a bit with the ups-and-downs of Alma's (Krieps) role within the household and Woodcock's hot-and-cold reactions towards her. The slow pace is punctuated by some terrific moments (such as the ultra-sensitive dress maker's overreaction to his Alma's table manners), but the elaborate period drama certainly takes its time to get to the point.

Rarely have we seen a film so wonderfully portray the struggle of living with an artist. While having his prestige, on paper Woodcock (who often sports less warmth than his designs) isn't all that compelling, and in the hands of a lesser actor things could have gone wrong quickly. Instead we get an examination of an immensely talented individual who dozens rely on for their livelihood but who isn't above throwing a childish tantrum when asparagus isn't prepared to his liking or when he must deal with the slightest variation of his routine. While we may initially feel sorry for Alma, who walks into the situation with her eyes wide open, there's far more to the character than just a woman in over-her-head (although Anderson could have done more to bring this out far earlier, doing better service to both the actress and character).

I will stop for a moment to mention the film's look and 50s European style. The production design by Mark Tildesley, set decoration by VĂ©ronique Melery, and costume design by Mark Bridges all perfectly compliment the acting on display. The Woodcock home with its long staircases, infinite rooms, and short hallways which seem to end abruptly in the oddest spots, fit the characters of Reynolds and Cyril (Manville) so well it becomes almost a physical manifestation of the characters where Alma is obviously an intruder struggling with her footing.

As with There Will Be Blood, the film ends on a high note with its best scene coming near the end. The simple late dinner is amazing to watch as events slowly unfold. It alone may mean Oscar nominations for both leads. As with There Will Be Blood, I think its possible to leave the theater on a slightly inflated high the rest of the film doesn't necessarily reach (or at least maintain). That said, the payoff is certainly worth the build-up, and it's still easily one of the best movies of the year offering another memorable performance by perhaps the best actor of his generation.

No comments: