PHANTOM THREAD (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)
When Tarantino shot THE HATEFUL EIGHT in 70mm, some people groused that he shouldn’t be wasting that format on a movie that takes place almost entirely inside one cabin. Similarly, I can see that complaint lodged against Anderson for this interior two-hander that isn’t even composed in a widescreen aspect ratio. Anderson shot PHANTOM THREAD on 35mm and blew it up to 70 for some rare prints (I was lucky enough to see one of them in Los Angeles), and the result is a grainy, brightly lit, contrast-free period piece that feels like one of Day-Lewis’s 1980s movies such as THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING or A ROOM WITH A VIEW. But what you really get out of this textured look is a film where the details are everything. You feel every fabric on your fingers, you smell every cup of coffee, and you can hear the pop of a pin pricking through silk or wool. And form meets content, as it always does in the case of great art: the character of Reynolds Woodcock is a prick through the fabric of this story, piercing every scene and dragging his plot thread through it.
As magnetic a protagonist as he’s ever been, Daniel Day-Lewis’s Woodcock is not a likable person, but you can’t take your eyes off him. The actor has a superstar presence that storms onto screens every five years or so, then he disappears until you’ve almost forgotten just how explosive he is. And this performance stands up next to the likes of IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THERE WILL BE BLOOD as unimpeachable greatness. It takes quite a presence to fill the screen with him (even someone as terrific as DiCaprio almost got stomped trying to compete), and Luxembourgish newcomer Vicky Krieps can pretty much fit the bill. Although her performance doesn’t feel internalized (there’s a thinness revealing how “pretending” she is), it’s still assured and delightful, and you can *almost* see what the answer is when she asks herself “What am I doing here with you?” during one of Woodcock’s punishing rants. And don’t sleep on the third wheel in this story: Lesley Manville is fantastic as Cyril, Woodcock’s sister and right-hand woman, or as he calls her, his “old sew-and-sew.”
INHERENT VICE had plenty of comedic moments (think of Brolin eating that frozen banana) but PHANTOM THREAD is probably PTA’s funniest film since perhaps BOOGIE NIGHTS. There are a dozen laugh-out-loud jokes, and the best of them are barbed and mean. Take for example the brilliantly timed cut following the wedding vows to Alma once again loudly buttering her toast. Some of the sharp, efficient dialogue will make you laugh but much of the (dark) comedy is in just facial expressions, sound effects, and mannerisms. But the flipside of this is just how deeply disturbing the relationship is — both for how believable it is and how callous. Love is often about power dynamics, give-and-take, and forgiveness — and the poisonous bond that forms between Reynolds and Alma is one that, like a beautifully-tailored dress, covers up a misshapen, dying organism.