Daniel Day-Lewis deserves to go out better than this.
Almost by default, Day-Lewis has been earmarked for a sixth Oscar nomination ever since the iconic English actor announced his retirement last year.
If in fact “Phantom Thread” truly marks the last on-screen appearance of one of cinema’s most accomplished actors, what audiences will expect to see in theaters is a far cry from what actually appears in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film.
The second pairing of Anderson and Day-Lewis following the Academy Award winning 2008 film “There Will Be Blood,” “Phantom Thread” is, at its core, the cinematic definition of pretentiousness, a film that secretly giggles to itself as mainstream audiences struggle to understand or maintain interest in this incredibly highbrow film.
Set in London during the 1950s, “Phantom Thread” follows a reclusive fashion designer working exclusively in high society who falls in love with a young rural waitress and embarks on a romantic game of cat-and-mouse as their love affair changes both their lives.
Day-Lewis exudes an elitist air with a vast array of whispered inflection as Reynolds Woodcock, a man whose judgment — of clothes, of society, of the women in his life — hangs over the film like a drenched rag. “Phantom Thread” is tampered to a snail’s pace by increasingly obscene subtlety, most derived from Day-Lewis’s soft-spoken, yet heavy-handed approach to the character.
This is especially true in Reynolds’ relationship with Vicki Krieps’ Alma, a woman Reynolds verbally and emotionally dominates from their first interaction. The pseudo-sexual nature of their relationship flows naturally back and forth across the line between flirtation and harassment just this side of Harvey Weinstein.
It’s intended for audiences to overlook many of Reynolds’ misgivings simply due to Day-Lewis’s turn in the role, though this sounds difficult to do when Krieps so often outshines Day-Lewis on a scene to scene basis.
Timid and meek at the outset, Krieps’ Alma undergoes the most concerted character development in “Phantom Thread” with the Luxembourgian actress finding her footing as rapidly as Alma does under intense scrutiny.
It’s a shame that of the film’s three primary characters, Krieps is the one without a nomination, mainly due to a lack of name recognition that will likely not follow her moving forward. “Phantom Thread” is a game changing performance that will bring Krieps to the next level of her career.
If Day-Lewis is the aggressive predator and Krieps the learned prey, Oscar nominee Leslie Manville shreds through limited scene work as the film’s tiger, Reynolds’ sister and business partner who approaches interactions with clinical precision and intimidating tenacity.
There’s a great deal of technical craft and artistry to “Phantom Thread,” with the film’s glamorous costuming and visually arresting cinematography being the true highlights of a feature that, at times, devolves to the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.
A true outsider film in a year of outsider nominees, “Phantom Thread” significantly exceeded expectations with six Oscar nominations including best director, best actor and best supporting actress nods. Its best chance at a statuette understandably is in costume design, though wide support for front-runner “The Shape of Water” could help shut Anderson’s film out entirely.
Of the nine films nominated this year for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, “Phantom Thread” stands out as the most unlikely despite being one of the most traditional. Moviegoers hoping to catch all of 2017’s top films will find Day-Lewis’s final feature the most un-relatable, inaccessible drama and very difficult to size up on the first screening.
Patient cinephiles or ardent fans of Anderson and Day-Lewis will find “Phantom Thread” a rewarding experience to catch in theaters.
Others unable to differentiate between an inseam and a herringbone should probably wait to stream the film or skip it altogether.