* * * * * (out of five)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, nominated for six Oscars, is a masterpiece – his second, in my opinion, alongside Boogie Nights. Besides their brilliance and mastery of craft, finding connective tissue between the two is tricky, which is further testament to Anderson’s brilliance. The depth of his palette is astonishing.
Working again with Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, which is an incredible film and which, for many, also deserves the ‘masterpiece’ title), Anderson creates yet another deeply layered portrait of a driven man, but this time adds a complementary woman, and delivers not a film about ambition, pride or hubris – though all those themes are represented – but about the greatest mystery of all, love, and the most mysterious human construct of all, marriage. It is also a mesmerising hothouse thriller, the best film Hitchcock never made.
The woman is played by Vicky Krieps, Luxembourg’s most prominent actress (!). Her performance is astoundingly good – the bulk of the film’s scenes are two-handers with Day-Lewis, with whom she completely holds her own – and it’s reflective of nothing save her anonymity to most academy members that she’s not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Day-Lewis, of course, is nominated, as is Lesley Manville for Best Supporting Actress. She plays Day-Lewis’s sister, and when you see the film, you’ll see why there’s so much buzz about her performance. It’s one for the books.
The multiple thoughts, contradictions and emotions these actors are allowed to display under Anderson’s own watchful eye – it’s his first feature as a cinematographer – are mind-boggling in their multitude. Normally an actor, in any given close-up, gives us a single thing – a reaction, a decision, an emotion. Anderson’s cast will give us multiple combinations in a single shot. In particular, every time Krieps’ character Alma is dressed by her famous designer partner, a universe of complex, contradictory feeling traverses her brain, and we’re privy to it all, silently but unambiguously. This is great acting, great direction, great cinematography, from a great script. It is peak motion picture artistry.
Jonny Greenwood’s gorgeous, lush score is allowed to be a character of its own, hugely present throughout, and, like every element of the film, enormously disciplined, precise, and bold. It matches the film’s two main locations, a house in London and a house in the Cotswalds, both of which we know intimately by film’s end, and both of which contribute endless richness to the story. Remarkably, both are real houses and the production actually shot in both; the London location, a Georgian townhouse in Fitzrovia, was, by all accounts, extremely challenging to shoot in due to the confined quarters, the size of the crew, and its stairs, but the authenticity it provides is undeniably, desirably tangible. Incidentally, it’s also on the market for fifteen million quid.
Supposedly, by his own proclamation, this is Day-Lewis’ last film as an actor. What a perfect vehicle to ride out on. Wearing no prosthetics, speaking in his native British accent (his first in a film since 1985’s A Room With A View!), shooting in the city of his birth, he looks entirely at ease doing the hardest job in show business: living up to his own reputation. He thoroughly succeeds.