REVIEW: “Phantom Thread”


There is a wonderful sensation I experience whenever I’m watching a movie made by a first-rate director. Take a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson whose movies I’m widely mixed on. He is someone who knows his craft and has a firm grasp on how to express his vision. He possesses a clarity of concept and a keen understanding of cinematic storytelling. And even if I’m mixed on whatever movie he is making, I can tell I’m in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. I adore that feeling.

Then you have the scintillating joy of watching a great actor at work. Someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, another true master of his craft. He and Anderson first came together for “There Will Be Blood”, a modern American classic and a masterclass on the cinematic form both in front of and behind the camera. They team up again for “Phantom Thread” which Day-Lewis has called his final film. The selfish me hopes that isn’t true, but if it is what a fabulous movie to call your last.

Anderson (once again serving as both writer and director) sets his film among the posh fashion culture of 1950s London. The centerpiece is renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) who along with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) has built up a distinguished clientele that includes royalty, heiresses, and various other upper-crusters. Reynolds’ world revolves around his work and he has much more interest in the intricate workings of a fine garment than the rudimentary details of a social life. As with many creative minds, his obsession feeds his genius but it also emotionally isolates him from everyone other than Cyril.


Things take a turn when Reynolds heads to his country cottage for some much needed time away. He meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) at a seaside cafe and is instantly captivated. Krieps is an accomplished actress from Luxembourg who conveys a sneaky beauty and subtle style befitting her character. Her Alma makes an unanticipated crack in Reynolds’ hard shell – something this “confirmed bachelor” has trouble understanding or responding to. For instance when she asks “Why are you not married?” he can only respond “I make dresses.” It’s a genuine reaction from someone whose past muses were nothing more than temporary fixtures.

Reynolds brings Alma back to London and takes her into the House of Woodcock. She quickly learns he governs his Victorian townhouse/studio with an aristocratical fervor. Seamstresses and assistants scurry about following his meticulous instructions and Alma is soon part of the machine. Only Cyril (who he affectionately calls “my old so-and-so”) seems outside of Reynolds’ rule. You could say she is his handler and at times his conscience (and Manville is just terrific). She knows what makes him tick.

The film’s trailer sells us an unlikely romance and Anderson certainly offers that. But tension mounts as Alma desires a closer relationship while Reynolds withdraws back into his shell. It’s here that the director tosses us a curveball and his movie takes an unexpected turn. The less said the better, but suffice it to say Anderson’s aim isn’t a frothy conventional love story. He injects a subtle psychological edge with pinches of black comedy and it all plays out in a gloriously beguiling stew.


Equally enchanting is the film’s cinematography said to be a result of a “collaborative effort” due to Anderson favorite Robert Elswit being unavailable. The subtle camera movements can be as elegant as the garments Reynolds creates. Look no further than the opening scene where we are given a visual introduction the House of Woodcock. The camera gracefully moves in tune with the sumptuous piano chords of Jonny Greenwood’s score – up a staircase, back down again all with an intoxicating harmony. There is also a steady flow of exquisitely framed shots that offer much to look at and admire while capturing the film’s shifting moods and tones. And of course Mark Bridges’ incredible costume design that should be winning every award it’s eligible for.

The deeper you get into “Phantom Thread” the more there is to absorb. Shades of Hitchcock can be seen from the more obvious “Rebecca” to the more subtle “Psycho”. There are also those rare moments of humor that come at the most unexpected moments. But at its core is a peculiar romance between a reticent yet domineering man and a woman unwilling to play her part in his game. Watching the stunning Daniel Day-Lewis lose himself in another role and an eye-opening Vicky Krieps is an absolute delight. And despite what we think we know about the three central characters, Anderson turns it all on its head.

“Phantom Thread” reveals a dialed-back Paul Thomas Anderson in top form. His writing is spellbinding. His direction is daring and confident. The look of the film is as beautiful as rare Flemish lace. The performances are sublime. Anderson left me hungry to go back and examine every frame, camera movement, and character expression. And remember that wonderful sensation I spoke of earlier? This move stirred those feelings and reminded me of why movies remain my favorite form of storytelling.




30 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Phantom Thread”

  1. Is phantom thread like when you have one of those dad blamed threads hanging off a seam and then you start pulling and pulling it out until your clothes unravel and you’re standing there naked? Is that why it’s called a phantom thread?

  2. This is truly one of the finest films I’ve seen so far as I’m glad to have watched it yesterday in the theaters. There is something about this film that is unlike anything as I’m just fortunate to know that there is someone like a P.T. Anderson around as he always create something that is unique and original. I await for what he does next as I know we’ll have to wait.

    • Isn’t it superb? And you hit on something – “There is something about the film”. That’s it exactly. There is something magical about it that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think it’s how incredibly the performances meld with the pure technique and craft offered by PTA. Everything in the film comes together in a spellbinding way. I’m seeing it again Thursday.

      And how about DDL? Can you believe he wasn’t even nominated in the Lead Actor category at the SAG awards???

      • He should be in the conversation. There’s a reason he’s won 3 Oscars for Best Actor. He’s a master at work and knows how to approach the character and make it his own. While I admit to not being a fan of method acting, he’s one of the few that does it right.

      • Completely agree. To not even be nominated is a joke. I thought he was just stunning and another wildly different character among the many he has played.

  3. Great to see PT get a full five stars; it may just be my favorite movie of 2017. The exquisite cinematography, Johnny Greenwood’s haunting score, the brilliant performances by DDL and Vicky Krieps, just pretty much everything about PT is perfect. I pretty much worship everything PTA does, and I think this ranks amongst his best work.

    • I can see why you love it. It’s a fascinating film. Even someone like me who doesn’t always go for PTA found this movie to be absorbing, beguiling, and utterly delicious. Seeing it a second time Thursday. I must. And can you believe DDL didn’t even get a nomination from the SAG awards? Baffling!

    • It’s captivating cinema my friend. Seeing it again in a couple days. Like many truly great films it leaves you feeling there is so much more to explore. Much of that is due to Anderson but also the performances. Man, everyone is so freaking good in this film and the three-headed dynamic between DDL, Manville, and Krieps is just incredible. When does it finally open there?

      • It opens next week over here. I do love a bit of PTA and DDL. Anderson is just going from strength to strength for me. Without a doubt one of the very best filmmakers around at present. He’s already one of the greats in my eyes.

      • Here is what will really impress you – Phantom Thread is unlike any of his other pictures. He’s doing so many unique things yet maintaining that complete control of his material he is known for. And freaking DDL…please don’t let him stick to his retirement. Talk about an acting genius.

      • Sounds fantastic. I found The Master to be an absolute masterpiece and he really surprised me with his approach to that one.

        Yeah, DDL, man! I really hope that his retirement plans are put on hold for a little while longer. He did announce it before until Scorsese coaxed him out again for Gangs of New York.

        You already know the appreciation I have for DeNiro but DDL is next in line. He’s the contemporary DeNiro for me. He’s immensely good.

      • I struggled with “The Master” but here’s the funny thing, I was mesmerized by PTA’s technique both visually and narratively. That’s why I find him so fascinating. Even if I’m not fully onboard with his movie, I find myself thoroughly enraptured with his filmmaking. Does that even make sense?

      • Absolutely! I felt a bit like that with Punch Drunk Love and as much as I loved it, Inherent Vice really lost me on the first couple of viewings. Even if I don’t initially take to one of his films, i always grow to like it after the dust settles. I wasn’t even sure about The Master when I first saw it/m. I had to revisit it a couple more times. Now, it’s a personal Top 10 entry.

  4. Somehow I have a feeling you’d love this one. It is an exquisite film and I can see why people love PTA’s work so much. Phantom Thread was my intro to his work, and though it’s technically brilliant, the story left me cold.

    • I can see that. It truly is a bizarre and unconventional ‘romance’. I think that’s what I adored about it. So you haven’t seen “There Will Be Blood”? I still think it is PTA’s best but this is a close second. Other than those two I’m considerably more mixed on Anderson’s movies.

      • Well if you read my review you’ll see my reasoning why it left me cold. I don’t think it’s bizarre, but certainly unconventional.

  5. Thank you for such a well-written review that captures Phantom Thread’s various shining virtues. I appreciated your vivid points about the cinematography, score and your tip of the hat to Hitchcock.

    I admired the film for how Paul Thomas Anderson reconceptualises the typical aesthetic of the Gothic to something quite evocative. You can find out more by reading my review below:

    If you find the piece to your liking, then please comment and follow.

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