The Unseen - Phantom Thread
It is rare to watch someone get the chance to be the very best at something. And not the very best working today; I mean the very best to have ever done something. Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest actor of all time, and this, his final film, fits solidly among his very best performances. It does not have the heat of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood; it does not have the historical heft of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln; it does not have the emotional appeal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot. But it does have the man himself lending every bit of his method genius to a restrained figure. The film is undoubtedly a slow burn, but that burn is so satisfying, it's hard to imagine it won't get to you.
In 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock (played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis) is a famed fashion designer. He creates gowns for some of the world's richest and most elite women. He is obsessive and demanding and relies heavily on his sister, Cyril Woodcock (played beautifully by Lesley Manville), who handles much of the business of his fashion house. While visiting a restaurant, Reynolds he meets Alma (played by Vicky Krieps), who he immediately brings into his whirlwind fashion house.
The two fall in love and Alma becomes his muse and assistant for a while. But when Reynolds' work takes precedence over their burgeoning relationship, Alma decides to take extreme measures to regain his attention. When this all threatens to undo his work, Reynolds must decide whether to keep her in his life or to get rid of her like his previous muses and girlfriends.
With lesser talent, this story wouldn't quite work. No one is as compelling to watch as Daniel Day Lewis. That much is obviously true. But Vicky Krieps going toe-to-toe with the titan is the real reason the film works so well. As a period piece, the film's gender politics are less than up-to-date, but Krieps' full embodiment of Alma makes the story still feel contemporary. She masterfully carries the heart of the story. Even when not on the screen, her performance looms.
So many elements of PTA's creation lend beautifully to the final product. The performances are excellent, the score is tremendous, and the visuals are as deliberate as the storytelling. For some, the experience will likely feel slow. But it all builds to a satisfying conclusion; it all makes sense in service of the broader message--that life is what we choose to make it and who we allow to be in it and for how long. Each character's choices bounce off one another and create a story that takes place in their hearts and heads just as much as outside them. The end result is a drip of reactions and emotions that comes at us in just the doses PTA intends.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis make a remarkable team. Having previously joined forces for There Will Be Blood, it is obvious the pair has something special; it's just a shame this is the last time we will see it.
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