While not a flawlessly sung swan-song, Phantom Thread acts as a more than serviceable send-off for the impeccable achievements of Daniel Day-Lewis. It's certainly possible for casual moviegoers to walk into the theater with an urge to delve into yet another romance and come away generally pleased, but since the inherent draw for most is Day-Lewis, this review will focus primarily on his performance.
At surface level, the film's synopsis is fairly minimal as it follows the day-to-day of savant seamstress Reynolds Woodcock. Set in the 1950's, Reynolds and his sister Cyril have established a renowned shop from which members of the upper class come to receive high quality garments. While on a brief trip to the countryside, Reynolds comes across a young waitress, Alma, at a restaurant. After she accepts his invitation to dinner, the main events of the film begin to unfold. Again, nothing groundbreaking plot-wise, but something at least worth briefly mentioning.
What a simplistic backdrop can do, though, is offer the film's cast a fairly blank slate to showcase their talents. Day-Lewis puts forth another nuanced, yet distinctly intense performance. He walks a fine line of being meticulous and obsessive without strutting into the territory of unreal or cartoonish. He also carefully avoids being one-dimensional, as his character (sometimes begrudgingly) begins to evolve and take to heart the aftereffects of exposing his otherwise recluse self.
Reynolds's evolution, however, doesn't come without cost. The conflicts in Phantom Thread are by way of argument, and they play out about as fiercely as you can hope. Given that Reynolds has invested himself so heavily in his craft, often disregarding the emotions of all others around him along the way, his rare moments of confrontation can be brutally honest. Alma does her best to reconcile their relationship, but even she can only get so far with a figure as polarizing as his.
By the film's conclusion, I didn't so much feel satisfied as I was impressed. There's never a moment of redemption, or payoff to a prolonged build-up. What there is, though, is consistency across the board. Characters are well established, and progress in a realistic manner. They bicker and collide in sometimes boisterous fashion, and will seldom be seen having a sudden, unearned change of heart. Phantom Thread fully realizes that matters of the heart are often fragile, and chooses to poke, prod, and dissect those emotions with searing bits of dialogue. Whether this truly is Day-Lewis's final outing as an actor remains to be seen—but if Phantom Thread is the lasting impression that he leaves, consider it another impressive entry to his long list of accomplishments.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.