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Phantom Thread (Blu-ray Review)

It’s fair to say opinion on a film can change over time. I rarely, if ever, feel my take on a movie differs all that much from the words I put together at the time, but appreciation (and vice versa) can grow. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread came at a time when so many films were being assessed for end-of-year lists, but it’s the one that has stayed with me most in the months since watching it (and re-watching it in theaters again). Plenty of intrigue came from watching the central relationships, and it’s made all the more excellent thanks to PTA’s steady hand behind the camera and the masterclass of acting in front of it. Following Phantom Threads awards run, which led to Oscar nominations in major categories, as well as a much-deserved win for Best Costume Design, the film has now made its way to Blu-ray, further allowing for audiences to embrace such a terrific feature.

Film:

Set in 1950s London, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a man who has developed ties to the royal family, movie stars, socialites and more, thanks to his abilities as a dressmaker. He’s been living life as a bachelor, but suddenly finds himself enamored with a young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who seems like something of a challenge to him. Alma inspires Reynolds and becomes his lover, but her involvement in his life means upsetting the routines he is used to, much to the chagrin and occasional amusement of his sister, Cryil (Lesley Manville).

Aside from Inherent Vice, as it was a fairly direct adaptation, PTA’s original work is often shrouded in mystery and people seemed to be walking on eggshells in particular for Phantom Thread. I can see why to an extent. No major details here, but the nature of Reynolds is an interesting development. There are no plot twists or genre-shifting story developments, but the film’s approach to playing like an old Hollywood romantic drama are subverted by way of PTA’s meticulous approach to the film.

One could look to All About Eve and various Alfred Hitchcock films such as Rebecca or Vertigo to get a sense of the story being presented. However, many modern touches and the general mood of the film also bring to mind Darren Aronofsky’s recent mother!. The nature of Phantom Thread is how one can chronicle obsession and the full ramifications of committing to a cause, whether it be one’s work or a romantic relationship.

The results are cold environments and characters with a healthy dose of contempt. And yet, that makes a wittily entertaining film. While Phantom Thread may be too deliberately structured for some, I was pleased to take in the very measured reactions and cold line-readings put on display as a way of letting the audience find joy in the sharp barbs being delivered. The film may revel in owning a look of professionalism, but there is an evident pettiness in at least one character used to the film’s advantage when it comes time to dig in with two people that may be the best and worst for each other.

It should be no surprise that Day-Lewis is massively effective in his part. It may not be the larger than life character of Daniel Plainview, who became instantly iconic from the There Will Be Blood trailer alone, but Reynolds will undoubtedly leave an impression. The way this figure relates to the others is one thing, but the actor seems so much in line with what PTA wants to put on screen. Day-Lewis’ methodical approach to the role means watching him attend to the making of dresses in ways that never feel inauthentic. From how he places a few pins between his lips to the careful movements he makes in removing stitching, there’s never a movement from the performer that seems out of place.

Right in line with Day-Lewis, however, is Krieps. The actress delivers a real breakout performance here, which is something one would hope for if it means having to be put against one of the most committed and celebrated living actors around. It would be easy to see the film place Krieps in a position where she is submissive to Reynolds, only to find her voice as the film goes on. I didn’t see it that way. Her strong will is apparent, even if there is nervousness in her opening interactions with Reynolds. Moving forward, she may be delighting Reynolds, but she also gets under his skin (rarely intentionally), and the film is not about having her back down from his push to make her conform. Instead, it finds ways to empower her.

There is more significant meaning to how this relationship plays out. Watching a male character who finds plenty of satisfaction in being the architect behind successful women says plenty. Having the film reveal challenges for him based on the women in his life means getting a film more inherently interesting. With that in mind, it should also be said that Manville is terrific in this movie as well. She may be the only person who can get by on taking Reynolds down a notch when she sees fit, again emphasizing the fragile construct Reynolds has made for himself. It’s not just about how great of a dressmaker he is, though, with that in mind, I’ll be stunned if Mark Bridges doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

While there will be a story to tell about the possibly toxic relationship between Reynolds and Alma, Phantom Thread is still a feast for the eyes and ears regarding how it’s been put together. The period aesthetic means getting some fantastic location shots, even if this film is on a smaller scale than some of PTA’s previous efforts. Production design shines here, as we see these elegant costumes reflect on the surroundings and alter under the natural lighting captured on camera. Additionally, Jonny Greenwood, once again, puts together a fantastic score, combining old compositions with his unique contributions.

A lot can be appreciated with this film. While there’s not exactly an urgency to its pace, there is plenty to be taken in as far as how it’s been assembled. Terrific, calculated performances are all in the forefront, but the style and grace of a film that’s been designed down to some of the tiniest details are what has it excel above other careful dramas. Phantom Thread may owe plenty to tradition, but while Reynolds may not be interested in what is chic, this film is happy to embrace a sense of modernity to better adjust for its take on classic cinematic filmmaking.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: As a Focus Features release, Universal has put out this Blu-ray release. Even while acknowledging that an upcoming 4K release will surely do even more justice to the work of PTA on this film, it’s hard to deny the spectacular image quality on a film that deserves to be placed under intense scrutiny to obverse every detail. The clean presentation speaks well to the work done to make this transfer register as sharply as it does. Costumes, in particular, look as fantastic as possible, as one can observe the stitching and various shades to incredibly tiny degrees. Even the look of Day-Lewis’ hands, observing the detail of a man who sews as a profession, allows for acknowledgment of just how important every aspect of the film was.

Depth: The position of various models and subjects in Woodcock’s dresses allow for a proper understanding of how spacing plays on this Blu-ray. There’s no flatness to any of the image and a good dimensionality to what is presented.

Black Levels: Thanks to the ample amount of natural lighting and other techniques, Phantom Thread often finds time for shadows, nighttime scenes, and other darker moments to enter the picture. Through all this, the black levels are strong, deep and inky. No signs of crush are present, and the absence of color plays well when necessary.

Color Reproduction: The use of color is great here. While there’s a subdued color palette to show much of the reality on display, there’s plenty to take in as far as the extravagant elements we can see, including the dresses, homes and manors, certain other settings and more. Greens, reds, blues, and whites easily standout in a film so meticulously crafted to draw emphasis when necessary.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register very well. You get a good amount of detail when looking at the characters up close. This is especially the case with Woodcock, as he has such a history of him based on his hands and other features alone.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English DTS: X Immersive Audio, English DVS 2.0, Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: I was expecting a standard lossless 5.1 track, so the extra bump is certainly a nice touch for a film that isn’t the traditional thought for one that challenges one’s home theater setup. There’s also a 2.0 track to help recall the classic films Phantom Thread is inspired by. Given the atmospheric nature of this film, sound design is key, and it’s easy to enjoy the work done to make sure this is an effective audio track. Moving between scenes that emphasize score to ones highlighting the sounds within the House of Woodcock registers incredibly well here.

Low-Frequency Extension: The LFE Channel gets a few moments to work with thanks to some of the settings visited and how some of the score plays.

Surround Sound Presentation: The music is such a significant focus of the film, and it takes up the center and front channels, though the various channels get enough to deal with throughout the film. It’s a fine balance. We can cleanly hear everyone while taking in the sounds heard around the houses and other locations. Nothing seems out of place.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds loud and clear.


Extras:

At this point, I do not expect much from the home releases for Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. He lets himself be heard on one of the features, but I do enjoy how he allows deleted scenes and outtakes to play like an Avant-garde experiment thanks to the editing and additional score provided for these sequences. Not an expansive set of extras, but some interesting bonus material.

Features Include:

  • Camera Tests (HD, 8:42) – This is a collection of scenes shot purely for the sake of testing various cameras under different lighting situations and with multiple cameras. While it works as an interesting set of outtakes, it is best played with PTA’s commentary, which best delves into the filmmaking process as well as some character details.
  • For the Hungry Boy (HD, 4:51) – A collection of deleted scenes featuring additional music by Johnny Greenwood. This amounts to a handful of moments that were redundant, but once again, PTA enjoys stitching this sort of footage together to make it all flow like a nice short film.
  • House of Woodcock (HD, 2:47) – A fashion show narrated by Adam Buxton. Put together as if this were a real show being presented to a TV audience.
  • Behind the Scenes (HD, 11:56) – A series of photographs taken during the production of the film, with demo versions of Greenwood’s score. Makes for a perfect screensaver.
  • Previews (HD)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film


Summary:

Phantom Thread is a film that will stand up well in the years to come. Paul Thomas Anderson is such a precise filmmaker at this point that his approach to storytelling has a way of connecting in ways I wouldn’t expect. There is a lot to admire in the production and the performances, both of which feature greatly on this Blu-ray thanks to a strong handle of video and audio quality. The small selection of extras also does enough to fill this world further. Here’s a great disc for a great movie.

 

Phantom Thread Arrives on Blu-ray April 10

Order Your Copy Here:

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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