Review: The Phantom Thread | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: The Phantom Thread

Film Critic Luis Freijo finds himself sleep-walking through The Phantom Thread, supposedly the final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis

In 1988, Daniel Day-Lewis landed one of his first major roles with the film adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Thirty years and three Oscars later, Day-Lewis has played what is (supposedly) his final performance in Phantom Thread, which could have been easily named The Unbearable Transcendence of Making Dresses. Because his Reynolds Woodcock, and other characters, spend an unreasonable percentage of the runtime dedicated to the elaboration of pieces of cloth; because, apparently, that activity is involved in a blaze of transcendence; and because, above all, the film is unbearable.

Do not get me wrong: it is not a terrible film. After all, Paul Thomas Anderson is directing and he proves, once again, that he is an exquisite narrator. The camera flows easily and elegantly during the movie, choosing wisely when to move between the workers that sew for Woodcock, the dresses or the parties, and when to stop to witness the usual exchanges between the designer and Alma (Vicky Krieps).

Above all the film is unbearable.
The cinematography (Anderson's work as well) catches perfectly the pale light of the house and of that fancy and, yet, dark world. The first scene where Woodcock is introduced stands as an example of how good Anderson is at his trade: the comings and goings of the ladies allow the camera to travel throughout the workshop and reach the brilliant designer. It reminds of the impressive long-take in Magnolia that showed the insides of a TV studio and states that the director's abilities remain where they were.

Nevertheless, the great attractive of the film, a priori, was Daniel Day-Lewis, especially since he announced that he would retire after this film. Let's remember, for the record, that he did something similar in 1997 after The Boxer and moved to Florence to learn how to make shoes. Five years later, he came back as forceful as ever with Gangs of New York. Let's just hope the same now. In any case, there is little doubt that Day-Lewis is the best actor of the last three decades, and one of the very best that ever stood in front of a camera, and yet this doesn't appear as a memorable goodbye.

Daniel Day-Lewis' Woodcock lacks the strength and the subtleties of several of his previous roles
Maybe this opinion comes from the fact that I was unable to connect with the film at any point, but his Woodcock lacks the strength and the subtleties of several of his previous roles. He is too good to be bad, obviously, but if we are comparing between obsessive creators I prefer his Guido Contini in Nine. Vicky Krieps and, especially, Lesley Manville give solid performances to accompany him but, and I never thought I would say this, Daniel Day-Lewis has been outdone by Gary Oldman, Daniel Kaaluya and, above all, Timothée Chalamet, a 22-year-old with all his career in front of him.

What is the problem, then, if the film is well directed and performed with professionalism? The problem is that there does not seem to be any point at all. Is it a film about making dresses? Not quite interesting. Is it a film about a toxic relationship that turns into a ruthless fight for power? It is not well written, then. Scenes of confrontation and reconciliation, of Alma being charming and Woodcock being rude, repeat themselves all over the film. Only the two final sequences bear some interest, when their love turns out to be a sadomasochistic relationship in a psychological level. The result of all this is a tremendously boring film. It is not a matter of slowness. There Will Be Blood was slower and longer than Phantom Thread. Call Me by Your Name also takes its time this year, and it is by far the best film of 2017. It is a matter of slowness combined with emptiness and the depiction of a rich and elitist world that does not speak about anything rather than just a sick relationship. Daniel, it is not worth retiring over Phantom Thread.

Verdict: Although Phantom Thread is an elegantly and exquisitely made film, its formal beauty clashes with a transcendent emptiness. It is not slow, it is just boring. It is nothing close to viking funeral that the last performance by Daniel Day-Lewis should have been.

Rating: 5/10


17th February 2018 at 9:00 am

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