At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Phantom Thread “2017”


MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Historical Drama/ Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, George Glasgow, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris, Lujza Richter, Julia Davis, Nicholas Mander, Philip Franks, Phyllis MacMahon, Silas Carson, Richard Graham, Jane Perry/ Runtime: 130 minutes

Even in the face of the pandemic that is, as of this writing, still in its 2nd year and counting of circling the globe, I still find in my heart that I must confess that for as hard as I attempt to see as many movies in theaters as I possibly can, due to my undying belief that movie theaters are still worth going to let alone the act of actually going to one being an experience that should be preserved as much as possible for future generations, I still sadly find that I cannot make it to every single movie if for no other reason than there’s only 24 hours in a day (though hilarious complications do often play a part as well). Indeed this was most especially true back in the long ago year of 2017 as I tried desperately to make my way through a lot of the “prestige films” the studios were putting out to try and nab them as many awards as they could. Indeed I sadly missed Three Billboards and Hostiles, but I did eventually catch them both on home video thankfully. The Disaster Artist on the other hand turned into a very rewarding experience courtesy of getting to speak with one of the real-life people at the heart of that film due to them being present at my screening. Yet perhaps the funniest was a double showing of Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water that went hilariously awry when the former went off without a hitch only for the latter to freeze about 25 minutes in and then completely cut out thus leading to a frantic attempt by the theater to get everything going again as soon as possible and as a result led to a very tired Alan being home a lot later than he had anticipated (three or four hours later), but at least the free movie passes they gave were put to good use when Black Panther rolled around in 2018. Suffice it to say therefore that when it came to celebrated film helmer P.T. Anderson’s 2017 prestige film Phantom Thread, I was nervous I wasn’t going to get to see it during those cold wintery days for whatever reason or another. Thankfully not only did it show in San Antonio, but it was also an advance screening meaning I saw it for free (yay!). In hindsight, I can honestly say that I am immensely glad I saw this in theaters and truth be told I would have seen it again if the offer had been made. I say that because whilst this slice of cinema most assuredly is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, if you are among those who are in the mood for an intriguing narrative, a collection of terrific performances led by one of the greatest actors of the past 75 years, and wonderful work done behind the camera by a top-notch film auteur and his equally as creative crew behind the camera then I can safely say that Phantom Thread is one cinematic endeavor that will fit you like a comfortable pair of gloves or a tailor-made suit in the best way possible.

The plot is as follows: Phantom Thread tells us the story of a man by the name of Reynolds Woodcock who, among other attributes I suppose that are worth mentioning, is a man who makes his way in the world by living a life where routine is not just another dictionary definition, but rather a word that is also an instruction manual for how to lead the best life possible. Of course the fact that the only way Reynolds works is his way and his way alone is hardly surprising seeing as how Reynolds also happens to be an expert fashion designer who excels at crafting and coming up with the most elegant and glamorous clothes for the wealthy elite females of the world. Suffice it to say that as a result of his way we see that he and his loving if not fully devoted sister Cyril have managed to construct an extremely successful business that is comprised of equal parts colorful fabrics, intricate threads, and pointy sewing needles in equal measure. Things soon change however when, in the aftermath of a particularly exhausting dress creation being completed, we see our fashionisto maestro decide to take a mini-vacation in order to recharge his batteries and push the big red reset button on his creative talent. A choice that sees him crossing paths whilst eating breakfast at a restaurant in town with a pretty if not entirely familiar with the concept of equilibrium young woman by the name of Alma. A woman who not only instantly inspires our stoic and buttoned-down fashionisto, but makes such an impression on him that he asks her to move in with him and become a part of his life on a full-time basis which in turn finds himself experiencing a bounty of creativity that he really hasn’t had possession of for a while. However it isn’t long before, much in the same way as a TV that has the movie channels continuously black out at the worst possible times, Alma’s presence in Reynolds’ life starts really causing a life that feels more like a perfectly timed and constructed machine and less like the day to day of a flesh and blood human being to begin to go awry. As a result, we see that he really starts to find her more of a nuisance than an angelic and loving presence in his life or at least in how he communicates with her on a verbal level. Yet even as little things like how she puts butter on her toast in the morning or bringing him a cup of tea late at night continue to place their relationship on rocky terrain as far as Reynolds is concerned, we still that Alma is nevertheless willing to do what it takes to make this relationship work. As for how far she is willing to go I don’t think that I can tell you that. Suffice it to say that by the end of this you will see that for some people the art of creativity can become an insane yet very human obsession, but for others it’s seeing what lengths they will go to in order to make their significant other show even a flash of vulnerability that they can then utilize to properly show their love for them that might just be the most insane yet human thing of all…

Now right off the bat it should be noted that in terms of technical ingredients being utilized behind the camera, this slice of cinema’s rhythm can perhaps best be compared to the tide in an ocean in that it rises and falls with a degree or two of skilled precision about it. In that respect, a lot of that rhythm can be attributed to the work done by this slice of cinema’s editing department with the initial meeting between Reynolds and Alma being the perfect example of the tempo that the editing department is striving for. Indeed the vast majority of this slice of cinema is overrun by either lengthy tracking shots that do a grand job of making their way and appreciating the style and extravagance present in such places as Reynolds’ house or by quick cuts that are done in conjunction with close-ups in order to showcase a change in whose point of view we’re supposed to be viewing things through. Speaking of the close-ups, I guess it should also be said at this time that the close-ups which consist of the camera going between Reynolds, Alma, and eventually, Cyril make for some truly visually riveting games of one-upmanship as we are able to see that our trinity of main characters in this are also, among other things of interest, a trinity of dominant personality types who are, for all intents and purposes, locked into a ruthless combat with each other to see whose personality is the most superior of them all. On top of all that, it should be noted that whenever the camera does make the switch between these two distinct types of shots, it is always beautifully partnered up with delightful bursts of both classic music and a beautiful and calm score from Jonny Greenwood. Indeed each chapter in this film, including one set on a fashion runaway, manages to soar to the levels set by the music only to then quickly nestle in to the more domestic aspects of the movie itself. Finally, it should also be said that a lot of this film is beautifully highlighted by some truly remarkable, though hardly unsurprising given this IS a film that deals with fashion, work in the costume department to such an extent that this slice of cinema’s costume designer, a Mr. Mark Bridges, deserves all the praise possible and then some. Indeed not only are his research into the fashion of the time period as well as his designs themselves worthy enough that our main character in this would most assuredly smile and give his approval, but they are also appropriate to both the era the film is set in as well as to the film’s cast of characters themselves.

Now in terms of casting, this slice of cinema is the delightful recipient of a trinity of top-flight performances. This starts with screen icon Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role of Reynolds and I know he has repeatedly said that this is the last time we will see him in a slice of cinema and I just have to say that if that is indeed the case then it really is quite the blow to the land of movie magic, but at the same time still does make for one heck of a final curtain call for Day-Lewis to exit stage right on. Yes the character of Reynolds Woodcock is one that is as different as night and day from some of Day-Lewis’ other iconic roles like Hawkeye, Lincoln, and Bill the Butcher, but that passion and intensity is as present as it was in those roles. At the same time however, we also see there is a fair degree of surprising vulnerability present that was void in a fair amount of those other characters that quite often takes the form of a general annoyance that pops up whenever something, usually seemingly minor or trivial, rears its head in his life to such an extent that we see despite being as artistically brilliant as he is, this is one guy who does not respond well to any degree of stress whatsoever. Suffice it to say that Day-Lewis chooses therefore to put a lot of his concentration in terms of this performance on sculpting who Reynolds truly is on the inside in a way that makes this a truly rewarding performance because it’s one of the rare times where audiences might actually be seeing more of Day-Lewis in a character than they are used to seeing. Yet as phenomenal as the work done by Day-Lewis is in this slice of cinema, I still think this is one film that ultimately belongs to the work done in this by Vicky Krieps in her role of Alma. Indeed I say that because Krieps is absolutely phenomenal right down to keeping a lot of who Alma is on the inside as far from the audience’s grasp as possible. With that in mind, the first half of this slice of cinema revolves around you trying to figure out just who Alma is as a person and one of the best positives that this film has going for it is witnessing as Krieps’ performance change as the film goes along. I say this because as this movie unfurls its narrative, the relationship between Reynolds and Alma goes down some….rather unique paths to such an extent that even when you think everything has been revealed, a surprise manages to come out of nowhere and astonish you anew and a lot of that can be attributed to the wonderful work done in this by Krieps. This then brings us to the third incredible performance in this acting trinity which consists of Lesley Manville as Reynolds’ take no prisoners sister Cyril. Indeed the relationship that she and Reynolds does seem to be a bit unorthodox, but Manville does a wonderful job at giving so much to the character by doing as little as possible. Heck just a moment where you see a solemn and daggered-glare from her is more than enough to make a scene in this truly electrifying. Now when this movie first gets underway, I would understand if you thought this character was a personification for the character archetype for the lady of the estate who is always there, always on top of everything, and who could be quite potentially dangerous to the heroine. However that is not exactly the case here. Rather this is a character who not only is the only one who can effectively call him out when he’s being a jerk, but who also is immensely skilled at getting him out of spots when he is unable to do so himself. Suffice it to say Manville does a wonderful job at playing this character who does care very much about her brother, but who is also tough as nails on anyone who would try to hurt him in any way or even him when she thinks he is going too far.

All in all to give up all the tricks that this slice of cinema has up its respective sleeves would be a fairly significant and immense disrespect to what this slice of cinema is going for. Indeed with that in mind, all I will say is if you think that you know where in the world this slice of cinema is planning to go you most assuredly do not. Not by a long shot. Other than that, there can be no denying that with this slice of cinema, iconic film auteur P.T. Anderson with the aid of an immensely talented cast and crew has managed to sculpt for a very specific audience’s approval a wild, gorgeous, mesmerizing film that may label itself as a drama, but has just as much in common at times with the darkest of comedies. More than that though, this is also a slice of cinema that is a wonderful counterargument to the long held trope of “the bitter and cynical artist always getting away with the fact that he treats the world around him like dirt because of how gifted and skilled that they are”. Indeed this is a sneaky, clever, and quite fond of deception movie that is also more than a glorious cinematic outing for the eyes, but rather is also a fitting farewell showcase for its lead actor who will easily go down as one of the finest of his generation and then some. On a scale of 1-5 I give Phantom Thread “2017” a solid 4 out of 5.