The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson finally did in actor Daniel Day-Lewis: He announced his retirement from acting before Phantom Thread made it to movie screens late last year—just in time for awards season.
Timing is everything: The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nom for Day-Lewis.
Day-Lewis tends to kick his own ass when he plays roles. A notorious method actor, he stayed in the role of Abe Lincoln for the Spielberg biopic when cameras weren’t rolling, and word has it that he did heavy research for his role as a 1950s dress-maker and fashion maverick in Phantom Thread.
That crazy research and attention to detail most contributes to Day-Lewis’s tendency to inhabit a role like no other. I maintain that the greatest single performance by any actor, anywhere, ever, is his portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood—Day-Lewis’s first, and best, collaboration with Anderson.
Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) runs a tight ship when it comes to his dressmaking business. He works and lives alongside his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), along with the occasional muse. When his latest muse starts interrupting too much during breakfast time, she’s dismissed—and Woodcock goes on the hunt.
He finds a new muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he quickly asks out to dinner, and then to come back to his place. Rather than pouring some wine and getting to know her better, Woodcock immediately—and literally—puts Alma up on a pedestal and starts building a dress. Alma goes from enchanted to mildly bewildered by Woodcock’s actions, but she sticks around and eventually moves in.
Alma is not the standard Woodcock muse, in that she wants more of his time—and wants him to slow down. A scene in which Alma hatches a plan for a romantic dinner for two proves to be the best in the film and a turning point in the movie.
In the dinner scene’s aftermath, Alma does something that carries the film into the sort of weird, bizarre territory that we’ve come to expect in an Anderson film. (It’s not quite as wacky as frogs falling from the sky in Magnolia, but still.) In fact, the final act of this movie is so strange that it left me wondering whether the whole thing was just a fantasy or dream playing out in a character’s mind. It’s not your standard, tidy romance film. Instead, it ventures over to the more twisted, haunted side—with a helping of dark comedy.
Day-Lewis turns Woodcock into an obsessive prick, a narcissistic celebrity who has no regard for other people’s time. Krieps, a relatively unknown actress from Luxembourg, doesn’t just share the screen with Day-Lewis; she often steals scenes from him. Her Alma holds a lot of surprises, not all of them the happy kind. Also, Manville is masterful as the controlling sister who knows her brother’s routine.
The movie works on many fronts. It’s an acting showcase for Day-Lewis and Krieps, and another fine example of technical achievement for Anderson (who did his own camerawork), in service of another great script from the director. You could view Phantom Thread one time as a statement on relationship codependency, and then watch it again as an observance of celebrity selfishness. There’s plenty of meat on the bone.
There are a few slow stretches, but the movie mostly moves at a good pace, accompanied by another fine score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. This is the fourth film Greenwood has scored for Anderson, after There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice.
If this is indeed Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I’m genuinely satisfied with what this man did with his career. Also … I want the man to live a long and happy, healthy life. He takes the craft a bit too seriously, so him calling it quits now lowers the risk of him traveling to Mars to play an alien, or sucking on meth pipes to play a junkie.
As for Anderson, while Phantom Thread doesn’t achieve the majestic heights of There Will Be Blood or Magnolia, it’s another great installment in a career that has had no missteps.
Phantom Thread is playing at theaters across the valley.