Phantom Thread stitches some fine performances into the fabric on Blu-ray .
The Production: 3.5/5
Phantom Thread is not the easiest film to watch, but it’s worth the effort, and it’s easily the best film Paul Thomas Anderson has made since There Will Be Blood. The story follows the life of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and Reynolds’ new flame Alma (Vicky Krieps) as he obsessively works his fashion magic in London in the 1950s. This is a painstakingly made film, as fastidious about its details as Reynolds is about his. And it’s a great showcase for three excellent performances, particularly Day-Lewis as the non-user-friendly Reynolds and Manville as Cyril. (It’s not a surprise that both were nominated for Oscars – although the power of Manville’s acting can be startling at times, as she easily matches Day-Lewis in intensity.) Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work will have their patience rewarded here. Fans of Daniel Day-Lewis will no doubt want to see this film, as he’s stated this is his last one. (We’ll see about that…) For its inherent qualities and the strength of the performances, this is an easy Blu-ray to Recommend for Purchase.
SPOILERS: It’s safe to say that we’ve arrived over time at a more thoughtful period in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s career. Where he started with bigger and splashier efforts like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, he’s settled into more focused works that usually center on a single strong performance at the center rather than the kaleidoscope of characters seen in the earlier works. Thus, the tapestry of story he would previously wind together has tended over the past 15 years to now be an examination of a more individual journey – be it Day-Lewis’ magnificent turn as oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, or Juaquin Phoenix’ more circumspect work in the unfortunate Inherent Vice. His emphasis has remained consistent throughout his career – carefully examining his characters to find their flaws and their underlying humanity, if any can be found. A primary character in one of his movies may start the film as a strong personality but inevitably will reveal his or her major malfunctions over the story, until what’s left at the end is someone a lot smaller and barer. We should also note that Anderson is dedicated to shooting on film, something he shares with an increasingly smaller band of directors, but which lends his movies an organic beauty that many digitally created productions no longer have.
MORE SPOILERS: The current film, Phantom Thread, is both a dramatic examination of Reynolds Woodcock’s obsessions in art and life and something much simpler. To be fair, it’s equally understandable as a love story, in which Reynolds finally meets his match in Alma. And part of the story does present Reynolds from Alma’s point of view, as we see him initially woo her and then follow his usual pattern of becoming bored with his latest muse and wanting to move on to a new challenge. Except that Alma isn’t having it – she does something Reynolds’ former partners never could do: she finds a way to get his attention in a way he cannot escape. Given that their relationship began with her serving him breakfast, she now feeds him small amounts of toxic mushrooms, hiding them in his food in the same way that Reynolds regularly inserts “secrets” into his dresses – thus providing us with the phantom threads of the title. Alma’s induced food poisoning causes him to lose his sense of obsessive control for a day or two and surrender to her care, after which she makes sure he recovers – telling him near the end of the film “I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender with only me to help. And then I want you strong again.” Somehow, she’s managed to get his number, because this approach is the one that works for him. It’s a circuitous path to get to this point, but in the end, the film suggests that the Woodcocks, for all their bizarreness as a couple and a family, have found a way that they can bear to live – a huge achievement in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. (As a friend of mine put it to me, “Hey, this is their game…”)
FINAL SPOILERS: I note that the production of Phantom Thread is exquisite to watch. It’s beautifully filmed, obviously with beautiful costume designs at the center of the story. I also note that Paul Thomas Anderson effectively acted as his own cinematographer here. No separate cinematographer is listed in the credits, and the film tests included on the Blu-ray show that the movie’s slates had Anderson’s name placed on the line between the areas for Director and Director of Photography, meaning that he was filling both positions here. This is not an unheard-of notion. One of Anderson’s idols, Stanley Kubrick, would regularly do this during his career. Steven Soderbergh also does this on many of his films. In the current film, Anderson clearly set the look for the film, and then relied on gaffer Michael Bauman and camera operator Colin Anderson and others to make sure it all worked. By doing this, Anderson has essentially made sure that every shot of the movie has been framed by his own eye – not a small accomplishment. He is nothing if not an impeccable craftsman. And with this film, unlike The Master or Inherent Vice, he’s once again found a story that rewards the viewer for sticking with it to the end. It takes its time, to be sure. I confess having come to this movie with some reluctance after the last two Anderson features – this one finally gave me a reason to watch another. The fact that this film features strong acting from Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville finally makes it irresistible.
SPOILERS DONE: Phantom Thread was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 10th. The Blu-ray contains the movie in high definition picture and sound, with some genuinely interesting but brief bonus features in the package, including some camera tests, an assembly of deleted shots, a faux 1950s fashion clip and a collection of Michael Bauman’s on-set photos. Based on the film itself and on the quality of the Blu-ray, I’m going to Recommend this title for purchase – something I admit I hadn’t expected to do when I first put the disc in the player.
3D Rating: NA
Phantom Thread is presented in a 1.85:11080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 36 mbps) that brings out the intense detail of the film. The textures of the various dresses and locations are presented in loving high definition, along with the beauty of the film’s lighting. This isn’t really a film about variations of flesh tones and epic vistas (although there are a few lovely vista shots along the way), but more of a simple story being told in classical fashion. The picture transfer here is a pleasure to watch.
Phantom Thread is presented in an English DTS-X Immersive Audio 7.1 track (@ an average 7.0 mbps, ramping up to 7.8 mbps during some party scenes). I confess being flummoxed by the notion of this film needing a DTS-X track – it’s a film about quiet dialogue and music, not an action-adventure. That said, it’s a lovely track that presents the dialogue and music clearly and without much fuss. There are also Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks and an English DVS track.
Special Features: 3/5
Phantom Thread comes with some interesting bonus features, although not in the manner one would normally expect them. Eschewing his usual commentary tracks of the past, Paul Thomas Anderson has instead elected to provide a potpourri of materials that give some insight into the production without pulling back the curtain too far.
Camera Tests (8:42, 1080p) – Here we have about 8 ½ minutes of the movie’s initial camera/wardrobe/production design tests, with an option to hear Paul Thomas Anderson’s commentary on what each shot is testing. Anderson discusses the various lenses and filters he was sampling, as well as how they worked out the proper wardrobe for Reynolds Woodcock (what kind of tie, etc) and the proper paint colors for places like Cyril’s office. Included in the tests is a pass at what would become the usual breakfast scene between Reynolds and Cyril, only the test has it devolve into an all-out food fight. I confess really being surprised at the sight of Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville just dumping their breakfast on each other’s heads…
For The Hungry Boy: Deleted Scenes (4:51, 1080p) – This is really just a collection of unused shots from different scenes, and what looks like alternate coverage of the scene where Reynolds and Alma meet. Jonny Greenwood’s score is laid under the shots.
House of Woodcock (2:47, 1080p) – This is a faux 1950s fashion reel to show off the latest offerings by Reynolds Woodcock. In reality, it’s the actual coverage of a drawing room/runway scene from the middle of the film, only slightly treated and cropped to 4×3, with narration by British comedian Adam Buxton, who adopts the stuffiest mode he can to describe the Woodcock creations being paraded on camera. Off-hand, I’d say that this is a fairly tongue-in-cheek idea…
Behind The Scenes (11:56, 1080p) – This is a collection of photographs taken on the set by gaffer Michael Bauman, including the cast and Paul Thomas Anderson at various sets and locations. There are some photos in black and white and others in color. The collection is backed by various demo versions of cues for Jonny Greenwood’s score.
DVD Edition – A standard definition DVD of the movie is included in the packaging. It contains the movie in standard definition, with an anamorphic transfer, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (@448 kbps) and the same special features as found on the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition. The DVD also carries Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes and the same English DVS mix as the Blu-ray.
Digital Copy – Included in the packaging is an insert with instructions on how to obtain a digital copy of the movie.
The movie is subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual pop-up menus are present.
Phantom Thread is a fine film, and a solid Blu-ray. It’s thankfully a return to form by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, with the added bonus that he also acted essentially as his own cinematographer on this film. The movie features strong performances by Daniel Day-Lewis (perhaps his final one) and Lesley Manville and some lovely, detailed costuming as appropriate for a movie about fashion in the 1950s. The Blu-ray features quality high-definition picture and sound, along with an interesting potpourri of bonus features. This Blu-ray is Recommended for purchase.
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