Phantom Thread – Movie Review

1950s London, a designer at the top of his game, his sartorial magnificence, his blinding aura, his paralyzing charm, his hypnotizing suaveness, his deranging array of idiosyncrasies and quirks, and amidst all of this luminosity a huge pall of darkness that conceals his insecurities and fears.

Who could project such a character on screen that amalgamates all of the aforesaid qualities onto one frame and have the unflagging stamina to sustain the performance over the course of an entire feature film? Who in Hollywood could pull off such a chimeric feat? If your brain hasn’t instinctively spit out a name then you are NOT a movie buff. In my estimation, there exists only one man today who is capable of such wizardry and his name is Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis.

If I could ‘fashion’ an analogy ‘chic’ enough to ‘showcase’ this leading man, it would have to be a horological one. He is a what you would get if a Super Complication were married to a Tourbillon! Mind numbingly complex, a sum of thousands of complicated yet precise mechanical parts of a grand complication and yet astonishingly accurate and error free owing to the design genius of the Tourbillon. It almost feels like Day-Lewis’s histrionic panache could have single handedly steered the film through to its crescendo without the accessory of the rest of the cast of characters. His performance is akin to the vortex of a tornado that brusquely plucks you into itself and you are then at its absolute mercy. You either come out of it disturbed, damaged and bitter or overwhelmed and shell-shocked (in a good way that is). I could of course go on and on unabashedly with this fawning tribute of mine and I’m quite certain of the fact that I wouldn’t run out of analogies and adjectives to pay homage to this living legend with.

That said, I must pause and pivot because this movie for all of Day-Lewis’s blinding exploits is a heist of a magnitude that takes way more than just a singular genius to pull it off. Mr. Day-Lewis is just the first among equals in this case. His fellow partners in crime are the veteran British performer Ms. Leslie Ann Manville, the Luxembourger actress Ms.Vicky Krieps and last but not in the very least his old friend and partner in crime Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson (conductor of such bewitching symphonies as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master and There will be blood).

The canvas is split between a home set in 1950s London which serves as the primary residence, workshop and showroom to the peculiar workaholic designer and a retreat nestled in the sylvan environs of the English countryside where to he is banished periodically to release, refresh and renew.

Manville playing the uber-possesive sister and the overbearing manager is frustratingly flawless. She is so annoyingly perfect that you as a viewer are constantly willing her on to trip herself up but then she responds with a brutal slap that hurts alright but without the loud explosion of the impact. That scene where she raises her hands in a pregnant pause and proceeds to tuck the imaginary strands of hair back behind her ear lobes before replying to Day-Lewis. That right there is so perfect that it just pours frigid water on your unholy machination!

And then there is Kreips, who is so endearingly full of imperfections! The crazy eyes are manifestly imperfect and yet they cast a perfectly enchanting spell. If eyes could tell a story then I would use hers! The accent, the contradicting and confusing mix of tentativeness and certitude and that fetching gaucheness add to her charm. I’m undecided though about her acting chops. I must admit I haven’t yet seen any of her prior work and I would like to see more before I pass judgement. It would be only fair. That said, a memorable first impression.

The outrageously gifted Anderson who is directing Day-Lewis after a gap of a decade when they had teamed up for the oh-so-significant ‘There will be blood’ is as eccentric and as avant-garde as ever with this script. He is one among the rare breed of writer-directors who has yet again undertaken this sapping and burdensome task of penning and directing a flick. This fact alone is worthy of commendation quality of final product aside. The background score that he has so deftly woven into his scenes keeps one on pins and needles almost endlessly and with an uneasy sense of foreboding. Such is the masterful synthesis of sound and imagery. His treatment of the central premise of this film is both freakish and alluring at the same time. The myriad scenes throughout the movie set at the various breakfast/dining tables and the exchanges that take place therein reek of signature Anderson style (watch and you shall know what I’m referring to). He has amply made his mark in the past and continues to reinforce his legacy with this latest creation. His films will never be mainstream and probably very far from it but movie makers of his ilk are worth their weight in gold.

That said, this isn’t a easy film to watch. It requires one to be in a certain state of mind before one subjects oneself to this sensory onslaught. It might leave you dazed, confused and acutely distressed because this piece of embroidery has been sewn with an invisible phantom thread!