Phantom Thread, Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson's eighth film, is the work of a master craftsman in his prime. With a terrific cast headlined by (the now retired) Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville, Anderson weaves an intricate drama about obsessive and enabling personalities set against the backdrop of the fashion world of post-war London. It's classic cinema at its finest. Universal Pictures brings Phantom Thread to Blu-ray with a picture perfect video transfer and a flawless audio mix - making the month-long wait for the 4K UHD Blu-ray release in May a difficult one to bare. But for those eager to get a look at this impressive film, consider this Blu-ray Highly Recommended.
"You can sew almost anything into the canvass of a coat."
As much as I try to get to every film in cinemas as I wholeheartedly believe that the theater is the best place to experience a film in the raw, I must admit that there is just not enough time in the day. You can't get to every single one. As I eagerly attempted to get caught up ahead of awards season, some films fell by the wayside. By the time I knew I was interested in it, Three Billboards had already come and gone in my local theaters. The Darkest Hour had such a short run that it left the day I planned to see it. As for Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, I just didn't have the time to catch the 70mm showings I wanted to get to. After finishing this film I dearly wish I had been able to make it to the theater on some cold winter day. Once the closing titles appeared on my screen, I was ready and eager to watch it all over again. Had I seen it in the theater, I would have simply stayed in my seat.
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) leads a life of strict routine. As a master fashion designer who makes the most intricate gowns and dresses for the richest, most powerful women in the world, he commands things be done a certain way. His way. Together with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), they have crafted an empire of needle and thread. After finishing one of his most demanding creations, Reynolds takes a trip to the country for a little rest to recover his creative faculties. Upon dining at a simple sea-side restaurant, he spots an uncoordinated, but pretty young waitress called Alma (Vicky Krieps). After making an impression on him, Reynolds is instantly inspired, ready to create a dress specifically for her. As she moves in with him, she becomes a part of his day-to-day routine. But like a clock with an extra gear, Alma's presence threatens to upend a meticulously refined machine.
Phantom Thread is practically a physics lesson committed to celluloid. An object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. Daniel Day-Lewis' Reynolds is that object. A Mountain of solid rock built by years of controlled routine and an obsessive personality. Vickey Krieps' Alma is that outside force, a small pebble looking to hit the right point on the cold and distant figure to create an avalanche and break through to the exposed human hiding inside while Lesley Manville's Cyril works to maintain the mountain fearing the day it is laid bare. It's this clash of personalities that makes Phantom Thread such an intense and fascinating film to watch. As you swirl about trying to understand motivations or figure out where things are going, Anderson keeps the piece just out of arms reach until the bitter end. In so doing, he's crafted an intricately plotted psychological thriller that will make fans of classic Hollywood swoon.
Watching Phantom Thread with my wife, we kept circling around to the idea that fifty or sixty years ago this film would have starred Claude Rains, Betty Davis, and Olivia de Havilland, or some combination of Hollywood powerhouse performers of that era. As I am extremely reluctant to go into any details about this film, I use these classic actors as my examples of expectations and how that sort of prescribed expectation can lead you astray. Claude Rains was always terrific as an obsessively-minded maniacal man. Betty Davis was well, Betty Davis and always reliable to play an underscoring of sinister intention to any character. Olivia de Havilland was always the kind girl. The put-upon who only wanted to do good but was always thwarted or pushed around. But what if de Havilland was actually the Betty Davis type character all along and the one you thought had the most sinister intentions was actually the innocent in all of this? Questioning these character and the role they play with each other is what makes Phantom Thread such an intense and exciting film to watch unfold. Picture elements and stylings of All About Eve, The Little Foxes, and Deception stitched together and you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about here.
If Phantom Thread is to be Daniel Day-Lewis' final bow in front of a camera, then I tip my had to the man for delivering yet another incredible and memorable character. It's a hell of a final performance to go out on. As he fully embodies the role of Reynolds, you can't help but feel a little melancholy at the idea that this will be the last time we see him - for awhile anyway. Like his character, I hope Day-Lewis just needs a little rest. Someone, someday will come along and woo him out of retirement with the right material. Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson can whip up something grand to pull him back into the show? Whether or not Daniel Day-Lewis is attached, I'm sure Paul Thomas Anderson will soon craft another classic film. As each of his films are unique little microcosms, I'm eager to see what world he wants to explore next.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Phantom Thread arrives on Blu-ray from Universal Pictures in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy set. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in a clear two-disc case with identical cover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for other Focus Features and Universal releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. As we've reported already, the 4K UHD Blu-ray release will be released on May 8th. We'll be doing a separate review for that release and will report any changes or differences in packaging or contents accordingly.
Shot on 35mm and apparently finished on a 35mm negative instead of the more common digital intermediate, Phantom Thread enjoys a beautiful 1.85:1 1080p transfer. With film grain intact and apparent - but never too noisy or encroaching - the image maintains a wonderful film-like quality. Details are striking and distinct from the closeups of individual stitches in clothing to actor's faces to the intricately detailed production design of the Woodcock home in London and their rustic country cottage. The open framing really helps you to take everything in and see the world these people live in.
Colors are robust with great primaries. Blues and oranges are a frequent companion to the image. Whites are purposefully heightened with constant blooms maintaining a dreamlike quality to the image that segues nicely to the darker scenes lit only by candles or firelight. The film's climax is particularly terrific on this point where there are bright whites and deep shadows within the scene. As I'm unaware of any Dolby Vision passes made for this film, I'm very curious to see how this image turns out with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release due on May 8th. As soon as I get eyes on it I'll be cranking out another review. As it stands this Blu-ray is stunning and I'm stamping it one of the best.
When you have a beautiful image, you need an equal audio component and this DTS:X audio mix for Phantom Thread delivers. There is almost constant sonic activity throughout the film with only a handful of truly quiet moments. If there isn't the hustle and bustle of the Woodcock seamstresses stitching dresses, or Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril going to restaurants, Johnny Greenwood's beautiful score keeps the momentum going adding urgency to scenes that would otherwise feel placid. In terms of vertical activity, there isn't a whole lot beyond a nice spacious cavernous feel to the large open house Reynolds calls home. Dialogue is rich and intense throughout and never at odds with the rest of the mix. Where this mix kills is representing specific sound effects. Do you hate listening to people chew their food? Scrape butter? Pour tea or water into a glass? Then you're going to sympathize with Reynolds a lot with this audio mix. These little moments, innocuous sound effects take control of the mix and really give it an intense punch without being overt or cliched with brooding low tones. This is a film that likes to build tension slowly allowing the little details in the visuals and audio heighten specific moments.
While Phantom Thread is an amazing movie with splendid audio and visual elements, this assortment of bonus features really scrapes the toast (you'll get it when you see the movie!). While some of these features do offer some interesting behind the scenes stuff, the material about film stock tests is great, everything is so brief that one hopes there is a more expansive Criterion release waiting in the wings.
Camera Tests (HD 8:42) I honestly wish there was more to this as it's a fascinating feature. Featuring an option P.T. Anderson commentary, we get a look at the different equipment and film stocks used to achieve the look and feel of specific moments.
For the Hungry Boy (HD 4:51) This is a collection of Deleted Scenes material that isn't exactly missing from the movie, just extraneous stuff that wouldn't have made a difference one way or the other.
House of Woodcock Fashion Show (HD 2:47)
Behind the Scenes Photographs (HD 11:56)
Hats off to Paul Thomas Anderson for delivering a classic Hollywood drama/thriller where characters are thoroughly drawn and intricately detailed. This is the kind of classic filmmaking that would have fit in during the late 1940s or 1950s with gusto. Featuring terrific performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Vickey Krieps, and Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread handily leapfrogged to becoming one of my favorite movies of 2017. It's one I'll be pulling out again and again if not to be swept up in the story, but to simply look at the striking visuals. Universal has done a terrific job bringing Phantom Thread to Blu-ray. This disc sports a masterful A/V presentation that makes you want to start the movie all over again. The bonus features are anemic, but there is still some decent stuff to be viewed. At the end of the day, I'm calling this one Highly Recommended. Fingers crossed the 4K UHD release nails it too!