3 1/2 (out of 4)
Only the eighth film for essentially the Stanley Kubrick of the age, Paul Thomas Anderson returns from the most complex breather of all time – the wildly underrated and profusely entertaining Inherent Vice – to more dramatic features geared towards challenging the current form of film as we know it.
Daniel Day-Lewis is magnificent as fastidious fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, overshadowed only by his own work with PTA a decade ago as the now legendary Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Crafting tonally ambiguous films that are difficult to fully digest without repeat viewings is what Anderson is best at, and Phantom Thread, while relatively straightforward, is still uniquely elusive given its lack of epic experimental conception – something the director's pushed more heavily with each film. The film’s closest cousins to the rest of Anderson’s filmography are surely Punch-Drunk Love and The Master, taking the former's unorthodox romance and the dominant-recessive relationship between its two leads from the latter. Many an Anderson film will feature toxic relationships, but Phantom Thread takes the cake for being the easiest one to identify and the most bewildering to comprehend.
Creating a montage of the finer emotions that go along with love and the celebration of one’s muse, Anderson purposely muddies the quixotic splendor by closely studying the role that repulsion and dissatisfaction play in our most indispensable relationships. Phantom Thread brushes the line of psychological thriller in a few moments but is otherwise a somber tale of a perfectionist, his dearest partner, and their joint quest for the sublimity of high fashion. Ironically, for studying a most persnickety man of patrician taste, technically speaking this is one of the least meticulous of Anderson’s efforts – in shooting there was no mainstay DP in what was described as a group effort. Even his last film, the narratively dense stoner noir comedy, felt more coherent in adapting Thomas Pynchon's challenging novel.
But for as reticently inscrutable as his new film is, subsequent viewings will likely reveal more and Anderson’s most divisive choices will begin to feel right. I was not warmly receptive of The Master and Inherent Vice on first watch, but they've both become personal favorites; regardless I don’t want to give Phantom Thread too much undue credit. The subtext and psychology lingering beneath this film, waiting to be unearthed and appreciated, doesn't dilute the immediate effect of this subdued and most peculiar love story.
To keep it brief...