For some, Phantom Thread will be the follow-up to There Will Be Blood that many have been waiting for. While Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis have combined forces again to create a film just as memorable, Phantom Thread is a different beast entirely. It is a more straightforward and linear film than Anderson's previous two films The Master and Inherent Vice and yet is also his most enigmatic work to date.
The other key collaboration in the film comes in Jonny Greenwood's absolutely stunning score. Phantom Thread begins with a title card and his score that wails with high-pitched strings and then wonderfully morphs into something perfect for the films 1950s setting. Then a woman's face appears saying "Reynolds has made my dreams come true." From there we are thrust into the meticulous world of couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis). We are treated to his daily routine which includes a thorough grooming ritual and a very particular behavior surrounding breakfast.
Woodcock is very close to his sister Cyril, the ever-fantastic Lesley Manville. Together they have created a rather big stir in the fashion world. His creations are desired by high-standing women from all around the world. One afternoon he dines at the Victoria Hotel where a rather clumsy waitress takes his order. Woodcock's order is complex and gigantic. She vows to remember it all. When she gets it right, he asks her to dinner. She is Alma, played by newcomer Vicky Krieps in what should be the role of the year.
Thus begins the central relationship, framed by narration from Alma who was the women at the beginning of the film. Their courtship begins with him confessing loads but over time, it wanes as he becomes obsessed with his work. When he seduces her, he controls her by making a dress for her and telling her he may choose to give her breasts. Cyril offers little comfort in these times of dominance. Alma seems left alone to be chewed up by their routines and machinations, a victim perhaps in the audience's initial viewing of the film. And then something changes in Alma and she concludes that Woodcock needs a rest and a return to his need for her. How she does this is one of the film's many surprises.
Phantom Thread is a film that always seems to be shifting from one conclusion to another. It is a thrill to experience something so unpredictable and yet with such a command of tone and purpose. The war between these two characters is never two-dimensional or plot driven. Instead, Paul Thomas Anderson has created a multidimensional phantasmagoria of a relationship that plays by its own terms. His visual style is stunning here, having shot the film himself.
The acting here is the year's best. If this is truly Daniel Day-Lewis's final film, he goes out with one of his finest performances. However, the film belongs to Krieps who somehow manages to steal scene after scene from one of the most praised actors of our time. The emotional journey she takes here varies from worry to frustration to adoration and fear, all underlined with a coy strength that reveals itself slowly.
Phantom Thread may have the same road that There Will Be Blood had, being recognized as a modern classic as time went on from its initial release. For this critic, it is the best film of 2017 and is the first must see here in Phoenix in 2018.