Whenever there are debates about whom the best actor is, Daniel Day-Lewis is sure to be mentioned. He has the uncanny ability to morph into anyone. He can convincingly play a person with cerebral palsy (in My Left Foot), and then become a very unlikeable businessman in There Will Be Blood. Let’s not forget, Day-Lewis looked exactly like Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. All three roles resulted in Best Actor Oscars for this thespian. The man is a chameleon, so it’s sad he’s retiring from acting.

His final film role is that of a meticulous dressmaker in Phantom Thread, the latest effort from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson. As Reynolds Woodcock, Day-Lewis again knocks it out of the park. Based on an original script from Anderson, Phantom Thread follows Reynolds as he lives a very structured life that revolves around his dressmaking. Reynolds cannot be bothered with “trivial” things. Reynolds’s work consumes his life, and because of his dedication he’s one of the most sought-after designers. Reynolds’ dresses makes wearable works of art for royalty, dignitaries and anyone he deems as “fit” to wear his creations.

The flip side of his genius is that Reynolds is a jerk. He follows a routine which cannot be interrupted in the slightest. Early on viewers witness his toxicity during breakfast. As he’s sketching out a new dress his girlfriend complains to him about his lack of attention towards her. Reynolds callously responds by telling her that he cannot begin the day with a confrontation and the discussion needs to be handled later. This takes place in front of Reynolds’ sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who serves as her brother’s business partner. After that brief discussion, Cyril and Reynolds talk privately and discuss plans for removing his girlfriend from their lives. In other words, Reynolds will dump her and Cyril will handle it. Relationships are business transactions to Reynolds, and girlfriends can be hired and fired at a moment’s notice.

Reynolds’ life is about to change abruptly when he meets Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps). She’s young, outspoken, a little clumsy, and emotional. She is the total opposite of Reynolds, but they begin a relationship which proves to be volatile. With Alma also wanting Reynolds’ love and attention she resorts to unorthodox means in order to get it. The results are shocking, yet oddly romantic.

Phantom Thread will test casual filmgoers – it’s dialogue-heavy, moves at a deliberate pace and can be seen as sexist. At the same time, Reynolds is so unlikeable it’s amazing anyone would find him attractive. But for me, Phantom Thread is engrossing, intriguing, and darkly funny. Throughout its 130-minute running time I found myself glued to the screen, eagerly anticipating what would happen next.

Due to the nature of Anderson’s latest, Phantom Thread is not for everyone. This tale of toxic relationships due to toxic masculinity is the director’s most straightforward and linear work, but there is plenty here which will alienate and offend viewers. There isn’t anything violent or gruesome, but there are sadistic and offbeat vibes which will rub audiences the wrong way. So if you’re interested in seeing this you need to be ready.

Despite its themes, Phantom Thread is a well-made feature. Anderson provides strong writing and impeccable direction, and the cinematography (rumored to be handled completely by Anderson) is sweeping and beautiful (not to mention, costume design is top shelf). Anderson enlisted Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to compose the score, which serves as another character. Greenwood worked with Anderson previously on the score to There Will Be Blood, so the two seem to share similar ideas.

Of course, performances are top notch. Day-Lewis will retire on top with this performance. His Reynolds Woodcock is rousing, frustrating and unlikeable, profoundly interesting. Since Day-Lewis is a method actor, I could only imagine how he treated fellow cast and crew members between takes. Krieps is unknown to American audiences, but nonetheless she’s impressive and memorable. Alma is the liveliest character in Phantom Thread (and the most relatable), then she decides to win Reynolds over in the most unusual of ways. Her actions will likely confound viewers – it will definitely divide them and take many out of the film. And finally, Manville is a scene-stealer. Early on she’s loyal to a fault to her brother, but Alma’s arrival brings about interesting actions from the stern and also-calculated sibling.

With Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson continues to make films under his own rules. This is not a typical movie and the risks Anderson takes are to be applauded. Many viewers will hate it - most critics, though, have pledged their adoration. I like it – actually, I like it a lot. But Anderson has done better so I’m not going to gush (nor will I recommend this to everyone). Still, his entire filmography is acquired taste – if you’re willing to accept outlandish work which isn’t of the cookie-cutter variety then this will work for you.

4 stars out of 5


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