Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread ★★★★

A romance of manners, practically an ode to the best of Merchant-Ivory films. The subtlest Paul Thomas Anderson has been (what a universe removed from "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia", ay?), a study of precision and nuance, which is more rewarding than it may sound. I often flashed back to Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers" of all things, and how that movie coaxed big laughs out of the quietest, smallest expressions of Bill Murray doing mundane stuff. Daniel Day-Lewis performs without the billowing pomposity of his characters from "There Will Be Blood" and "Gangs of New York", but just as masterfully commands every scene in this with an abundance of acting detail. I suppose it helps that he's playing another larger-than-life person of sorts, even if this one is far more reserved. Or maybe that's the brilliance of it - he's a control freak, a fastidious prick, an eccentric and ego-maniacal artist, yet it's all told in stares and carefully worded admonishments. Lesley Manville splendidly matches him shot for shot in microscopic gestures, Vicky Krieps too but less punctilious about it as befitting her relatively earthier character.

Watching the three of them maneuver around each other in passive aggressive power plays, amidst Paul Thomas Anderson's elegant staging and Johnny Greenwood's luscious musical compositions, somehow manages to be a pleasurable exercise for over two hours, even if Anderson's creative inspiration appears to be thinner than usual. The production design and cinematography, while no doubt meticulous and distinct, aren't really as arresting as all his other films have been, and the story he chooses to tell here doesn't have the narrative, emotional, or thematic echoes that have made classics of his earlier work. In a nutshell it's kind of just a mildly kinky tale of a woman who learns how to tame an asshole. But maybe I'll feel it more over time and re-watches.

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