Phantom Thread

Myrna Loy


Grade: A-

When director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis team up the resulting milkshake is dark, brooding and explosive.

First time around in 2007 they generated “There Will Be Blood” which bled its way to eight Oscar nominations. Lewis won Best Actor for his portrayal of a ruthlessly ambitious oil tycoon.

Peter Bradshaw, the astute critic for the London Guardian, described “Blood” memorably.

“This is a film by Paul Thomas Anderson that has overshot the runway of movie modernity with something thrillingly, dangerously new,” wrote Bradshaw.

Now, a decade later, Anderson and Day-Lewis have overshot that (fashion) runway yet again. “Phantom Thread” follows a London fashion designer’s dark romance with a waitress who serves him breakfast and then stays for dinner.

Both Anderson and Day-Lewis have said that “Phantom Thread” was draining – so much so that at the conclusion of filming, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting.

Day-Lewis 60, explained to the magazine “W” why he’s ending his magnificent career, which has put six nominations and three Oscars on his mantel – with room for a fourth, if he can elbow past Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill.

“Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting,” he said. “I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”

That sadness was followed by a press release from his agent.

“Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.”

If we believe him, we are saying goodbye to an actor with a Midas touch who turned almost every role to Oscar gold.

Why is Day-Lewis retiring from acting? My theory is that he was artistically and emotionally exhausted – and also deeply satisfied. He wanted this memory to be his last, to honor what he and Anderson had “given birth to.”

“Phantom Thread” is an exquisitely crafted film on every front – cinematography, score, cast, costumes, sets. Watching the fashion designer on his knee, examining every thread on his latest wedding dress serves as a metaphor for everyone’s work on this film – meticulous stitching of every detail.

Film buffs will notice nods to Hitchcock. I saw moments of Kubrick in the camerawork and music, and the dialogue reminded me, at times, of the relationship studies of DH Lawrence.

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As a portrait of a fashion designer, “Phantom Thread” is a masterpiece. But when the script takes a dark turn toward the macabre, the power diminishes slightly as melodrama seeps in around the edges of the screen.

The story ends as a celebration of a most morbid kind of love, and I’m still not sure what Anderson intended with this detour into fields of mushrooms.

Still, I could watch Day-Lewis for hours and never be bored. His counterpart, Vicky Krieps, is phenomenal, too, as a young woman who evolves from object to subject.

The visuals are breathtaking from first scene to last. No one should object if “Phantom” were projected across the wall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a masterpiece of craftsmanship, reminiscent of Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander.”

We movie lovers will hope, of course, that this is not our last chance to marvel at Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the best actors of his generation.

I predict he’ll pull a Sinatra.

In 1971 Frank Sinatra firmly announced his retirement: “I’m serious about this.”

In 1973 Frank sheepishly said “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” and crooned once more.

Enjoy a restful holiday, Daniel. We’ll see you on the red carpet in 2020.


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