Quick Hit: A deep dive into the exploration of power dynamics within a relationship.
Apparently this is just the year that I love Best Picture nominees. There are some years where that isn’t necessarily the case, but this year each of the film hits a facet of my film personality that apparently needed scratching. From Del Toro’s love letter to monsters, to a deep, dark black comedy in Three Billboards, to a deconstruction of race dynamics in Get Out, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s crop of films. That continues with Paul Thomas Anderson’s (hereby referred to as PTA) written and directed film Phantom Thread.
Phantom Thread follows dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis) as his life is changed by the discovery of Alma (Vicky Krieps). Reynolds is extremely routine and committed to his work, a character trait that has been nurtured by Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister. While Reynolds focuses on the design of the dresses, Cyril runs the other aspects of the business. This creates a three-way dynamic between Alma, Cyril and Reynolds, as each struggles to understand their place in each other’s lives.
The film is undeniably a PTA film. Those familiar with his work in Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master will understand what I’m saying with that. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the obvious power struggles that lie in each relationship. The film starts and Alma seems to bend to each and every one of Reynold’s wishes. But Alma has more to her than this, and soon shows a layer of unyielding steel that is lying beneath her surface. This leads to some extremely uncomfortable scenes eventually, ultimately leading to the finale, which is something that has to be seen – if not to understand, only to enjoy.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a film, outside of possible Hush, where I believe that sound played such a huge role. Never before has the scraping of butter onto bread been given so much meaning. It’s almost a character of its own – playing to Reynold’s neuroses, pushing Alma higher, and shares center stage with the three actors… and the score. My, oh my, the score. A frequent collaborator with PTA, Jonny Greenwood has crafted a score that matches the film perfectly. Huge in some moments, swelling to deafening in others, but always leaving enough silence for the sound editing to come back and hit the audience right in the ears, the score is lilting and light, until it isn’t. Just like the relationship between Alma and Reynolds, everything isn’t alright, unless it is.
I wouldn’t be me without mentioning the acting, and oh my is it good. I can’t imagine sharing a screen with the legend that is Daniel-Day Lewis, but Vicky Krieps stands next to him and shares each moment confidently. Alma is a great, enigmatic character – we don’t know much about her history, or anything besides her romantic involvement with Reynolds. Krieps nurses that mysteriousness throughout the film, giving conflict to moments that have no right being conflicted. Ms. Manville also earns her Supporting Actress nod, at times giving us little more than an eyebrow that render entire conversations unnecessary. I actually think that this film would have been interesting if it would have played without dialogue at all – allowing the actor’s expressions and the sound editing and score to carry the film. And Lewis continues to turn in masterful performances, with Reynolds being well-crafted in all moments, and never boring in the slightest.
This film is a slow burn of a film which doesn’t feature explosions, explicit sex, or any of the trademarks of modern blockbusters. But this period drama is fantastic in many ways that go unnoticed in those films, and for that I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"