Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running Time: 130 mins
Phantom Thread is an American film about an acclaimed dressmaker who finds his intensely ordered life disrupted by a young woman, with whom he enters into a complicated relationship.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the sort of writer-director who can get things absolutely perfect, or very, very wrong. There Will Be Blood remains a masterful piece of dramatic work to this day, while the likes of Inherent Vice are nothing more than dull, pretentious messes . In the case of Phantom Thread, things aren’t quite as easy to categorise, and although the film eventually reaches an impressive level of dramatic depth and tension, it’s a long road from a very pretentious opening act that doesn’t do much to enthral you from the beginning.
We’ll get into all that in a second, but I’ll touch on what I thought was the film’s most consistent, and easily most memorable feature: the design and visuals. Following the life of a dressmaker in 1950s London, the film has to look absolutely exquisite, and it does just that.
From divine dresses and pristine suits worn by the characters to the beautiful production settings, the film looks absolutely marvellous from beginning to end, as if it’s been painstakingly created over years of hard work, which I was really impressed by. Also, the music throughout is just as exquisite, with the score mirroring the film’s emotional and dramatic themes as it builds from a light piano score early on to one complete with sharper violins and more as the drama and tension develops, another excellent touch.
When it comes to the characters and the performances, they all fit in just as well with the movie’s finely-crafted atmosphere. With polite and civilised dialogue, combined with the confident and well-mannered performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps, you’ll feel right in the middle of high society here.
However, this is where my opinion on the film starts to turn a little shaky. While the graceful and elegant vibes of the film are wonderful to see, they did have an impact on how seriously I could take a lot of the characters at first. It’s a problem that eventually irons itself out, once things become a little more dramatic, however the film’s first act is a real struggle to get used to some very wooden and unfeeling dialogue.
Of course, that opening act is there to show you how the people of high society often live behind a façade, something that makes the characters’ occasional outbursts all the more striking and powerful. However, in a first act that should be able to fully entice you, I found myself really struggling to get on board with Phantom Thread early on, as it just felt so wooden and alien to me with its dialogue and acting style, as if it was all style and no substance.
That style is amazing from the very first scene, but the way that the story in the first act unfolds is incredibly boring. Feeling not unlike the premise of Fifty Shades Of Grey (albeit made in a far more intelligent and civilised manner), the opening act centres on the relationship between the dressmaker and the young woman with whom he has an unorthodox relationship.
However, there’s nothing in the way of either passionate romance or good dramatic tension at any point during the first act, something that left me feeling very bored and frustrated by what appeared to be a very fine and carefully thought out film.
Fortunately, there’s a moment in which the power balance between the lead characters takes a slight shift as we move into the second act, and from there things become a lot more interesting. I won’t spoil anything, but a real growth in tension and drama, as well as a deeper thematic insight into the nature of men and women, turn Phantom Thread into an eventually engaging and dramatic movie.
The second act is definitely the height of the film, as there’s a real sense of unease around the house as we see the characters start to shift away from their traditional positions, and although that subsides a little in the final act, things do remain riveting and tense enough up to the end for the film to prove an overall engrossing watch.
In the end, I found myself a little torn with Phantom Thread. At times, it has the dramatic depth and tension of some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best, but at others, it’s a very pretentious and dull piece of work that does very little to entice you beyond looking at pretty dresses and settings. The performances are good throughout, as are the visuals, but it’s just that inability to make a thoroughly and consistently riveting film that really let things down here, and that’s why I’m giving Phantom Thread a 7.3.