Supposedly, ‘Phantom Thread’ is Daniel Day Lewis’ last film, and I am suddenly sad if ever. You see, he gives a great performance here – he is one of those actors who does both ‘studied’ and ‘natural’ acting – each performance is an exercise in restraint, and he has one of the most expressive faces – one look from him can convey a multitude of things. His Reynolds Woodcock in this film is a very complex character, a couturier of post war England, and he is a study of elegance and class, and class here has double meaning. He is artistic, moody, and never tells you what he really wants as he is telling you what he wants. Lewis somehow makes the character relatable – you understand Reynolds right away, or you think you do, even as the same character confounds you.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, from his screenplay (he is also the Director of Photography) is art house in the most varied definition of that word. An elderly woman I spoke to before seeing this film described it to me as ‘very European,’ and I wanted to tell her that it was by an American director. It is a study of art, of how it is conceived, presented, and assessed. The film is also a love story. Woodcock meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) a waitress at a provincial hotel where he is staying at – she suddenly becomes his lover, and muse. She starts to live with him and his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) and the three of them do a delicate dance – playing off each other with each other, for survival. Manville gives a great showy performance, but showy in the most subtle way. I hope she gets an AcademY Award nomination for her performance here.
I liked most of the film. It’s visually stunning, and kept me on my toes. I didn’t know which side to always take, and sometimes regretted my choice when I did. And Lewis makes Babcock unforgettable. I think this is one of those films that benefit from a second viewing. I just don’t know if I have the inclination to give it one.