Daniel Day-Lewis received his sixth Oscar nomination for portraying Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread.
Three time best actor Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis delivers here his self-proclaimed final cinematic performance, announcing his retirement long before the film's release. We of course have been down this path before with Day-Lewis's foray into the world of professional cobbling in the late 90's before he returned again to the world of acting. Of course acting is not a simple thing of putting on an act for Daniel Day-Lewis, it hasn't been for some time, instead it is this full bodied devotion to his art. An act that some may believe to be ridiculous, or pretensions, but you cannot argue with the results. Day-Lewis through his performances over the years, in a select group of films, has crafted a reputation greater than any other actor living currently. Day-Lewis's name has become synonymous with "great actor". It is then interesting to examine Day-Lewis's work in this film where he also plays an artist so fervently devoted to his craft that it seems to guide his entire life. I suppose you couldn't ask for a better actor to fulfill the role though perhaps this time where the acting begins and Day-Lewis ends might blur a bit. This is his first role in some time where Day-Lewis uses his native accent for a role, and bears no concealing facial hair. The period costumes even seem similair those he wears are closest to where the public most often sees Day-Lewis outside of a film, which is at award shows.
Does Day-Lewis play himself here? No I don't believe so, however it is fascinating to see Day-Lewis, an actor known for his transformative work in general, take on a role that demands he work with a character and material that far more closely hones towards his own existence than he did as a hunter in the French and Indian war or an oil man during the early 20th century. Who better then than Day-Lewis to reveal the level of ambition for a man who so devotes himself to his art. In the opening scene of the film we see a day in the house of Woodcock, which is neither the setting of a pornographic film nor one starring Billy Bob Thornton. Day-Lewis does not disappoint in this inherent intensity he brings to Reynolds. The sheer devotion of the man seems to take up his very being, as one could argue Day-Lewis does when playing a part. There is not just single facet of the man that evokes this determination towards perfection. Every element in Day-Lewis's work represents a man consumed in his art as in his eyes seem to examine every piece of fabric to ensure not a single flaw exists, his physical manner all drawn into the act of creating this perfection, Day-Lewis creates this sense of the man's very soul being sewn within his clothing. The act of making the dress is not a single bit of threads, needles, and material, it is almost of a man risking his very existence as he goes about this precarious exterior surgery of the human form.
After the initial sequence of seeing Reynolds in his full devotion we are left with the man outside of the act at its greatest purity. There is however not a respite in this act as we tend to see Reynolds rarely without his notebook penciling his next masterpiece, just as Day-Lewis himself does not drop character between takes. Day-Lewis captures essentially this burden of the artistic spark within the man that rarely seems to grant him any respite. Day-Lewis as he draws in the pad does not reveal any great joy in Reynolds rather he reveals a strict devotion to every stroke. There is the sense of a required need towards it as though he must be immersed within this work at all times. It is his existence and the years of this weight of a assumed responsibility bears itself within Day-Lewis's work. Just as Reynolds must craft his next immaculate dress, in a way Day-Lewis needs to craft this immaculate performance. This intention to their mutual enterprise offers perhaps a view of the idea of ambition like few other performances have every approached, other than perhaps Day-Lewis in his last venture with Paul Thomas Anderson in There Will Be Blood. Where that film and Day-Lewis revealed a man who tore apart the earth itself to satiate his greed, Day-Lewis reveals a man as driven, but in a way far more internalized.
Day-Lewis vividly reveals the man whose state leaves only a small window for others to inflict themselves within his world. We see this early on as Reynolds's current romantic partner attempts any sort of conversation or distraction while Reynolds's works. There is not a glint of affection or care that Day-Lewis grants as he allows his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) to quickly dispose of the woman from the grounds. There is a replacement for her forthcoming when he journey into the country coming across a waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). It's a pivotal scene where they meet particularly towards the way Day-Lewis depicts this. In that there is not overt moment of attraction until he notices her from a mistake she makes while working. There Day-Lewis grants a most interested view and perhaps a sense of a chance for affection as he speaks to her with an initial tenderness. The evening with Reynolds though is not that of merely a joyful conversation or even love making rather he takes upon himself to examine her most closely. In every moment Day-Lewis is transfixed towards here. Day-Lewis creates at least enough of a sense of an infatuation yet there is most certainly more within that. There is an analysis within his eyes as he stares at her seeming as though he trying to find something through her.
What is that Reynolds seems to be seeking may be found as he begins to fashion a dress for Alma, and begins to prepare her as one of his models. The dressing down, then re-dressing of Alma is a particularly important moment in Day-Lewis's realization of Reynolds's initial use of Alma in a way. He essentially dissects her elements with the cold precision of an utmost professional in every step of his process, however there is the glint of warmth and real pride in Day-Lewis's delivery when Alma expresses her lack of breasts, and Reynolds affirms he shall give them to her. Day-Lewis reveals Reynolds initial interest of a man to realize a perfection in this woman, though a perfection through his own creation. Their process of courtship becomes his work towards making her an essential element within his masterworks. When we see this process Day-Lewis once again brings that conviction seemingly within Reynolds's work effort. There is never a lack of devotion. His interactions with Alma though there is a sense of desperation in these interactions. Day-Lewis offers this in particular the way he shows Reynolds stares at her, once he's dressed her, seeming to be of a man looking for the slightest imperfection, and being almost terrified at the prospect. This is until a final photograph session where we see Alma seemingly having achieved sheer perfection while Day-Lewis fully projects a palatable admiration in Reynolds towards her, yet only for a brief moment which Day-Lewis portrays as though Reynolds has made his accomplishment but now quickly loses his attention.
Day-Lewis simply presents Reynolds as ready to resume his existence and move onto whatever his next masterpiece will be however Alma remains. Her moments of the slightest indiscretions that lead to distraction in Reynolds, Day-Lewis reveals Reynolds to be really a rather contemptible if not intolerable sort. Day-Lewis however is downright brilliant in how effective he is in creating the vicious edge of the man who is so absorbed within his work. That absorption that Day-Lewis creates such a tension within that anything that disrupts that specific equilibrium creates a shock wave matching that level of tension within it. Now these scenes are perhaps what some might go to see a Day-Lewis performance for. Day-Lewis's performance is not built around these scenes and moments by any means and what makes them so special is his realization of how naturally they are a part of revealing the nature of Reynolds. The insults and barbs Reynolds unleash pierce like few you might see in cinema due to the incisiveness of Day-Lewis's voice. Day-Lewis cuts through anything with this as he unleashes this exact anger and frustration like few can onscreen. It is something more here something that reveals itself within how much every word carries such a meaning in Reynolds's hate. In a scene where Alma surprises Reynolds with a date, much to his dismay, Reynolds tears into her, though with a specific wording as though she's somehow harmed him, with a request for her to reveal her weapon she intends to kill him with. Day-Lewis thrusts forward this technically petulant hatred that goes much deeper than a simple annoyance, but rather is representative of the man's defenses when it appears anyone would wish to shatter this world that has been created around him and for him.
This behavior though alludes to something more within Reynolds that can be found within his relationship with his deceased mother. Every moment where Reynolds speaks of her Day-Lewis realizes the sheer depth of the weight of her on the man's life. Whenever he speaks of her Day-Lewis's eyes are that of a haunted man but not in a way of just merely having lost someone he loved. There is something far more within this as there is a certain pain just as much as he speaks potentially admiring words Day-Lewis does not deliver them as though he simply loved his mother, there is something far more complicated in this that Day-Lewis realizes in his interactions with Manville's Cyril and Krieps's Alma who both perhaps represent sides of his mother in a very peculiar way. With Cyril we see a facilitator for Reynolds, but also the one who limits his own aggression. Day-Lewis in his interactions with Manville depicts this sense of submission even within seeming control as when he speaks of one of his decisions Day-Lewis looks upon her with the desperate need for an authoritative guidance that will suppose his petulance at times. When she denies Day-Lewis reveals this pain and attempt at a hatred as he attempts to assert his control yet is routinely denied his outburst by her. He granted only the calmest of assurances by her that Day-Lewis shows calms Reynolds's anger, but perhaps that is not enough. In Alma there is more. There his outbursts are more severe, more intense, but Alma doesn't back down and keeps challenging Reynolds. Day-Lewis portrays these simpler challenges as only revealing this hatred towards that personal closed economy of his mind. It is only when she goes beyond a simple break of it to a larger one does Day-Lewis reveal an appreciation for her. This pivotal though in that Day-Lewis shows the reduction of the man to essentially a boy in these moments who seems to understand his punishment revealing the greatest of affections when given these lessons. These lessons that would be more fitting of a mother, such acting as a brat, you go to bed without supper, Alma does a bit of a subversion of that, refusing to go to a party, you are left alone to stew in your room. It is after these punishments Day-Lewis projects a most powerful love the for her, a love that he had only known fully once before in his mother, where he is never supported for his indiscretions, but is also rewarded for learning to overcome them. The, what could be described as a twisted state, is granted such vibrancy and reality within Day-Lewis's performance. This element of the film is not really spoken past a few words yet wholly realized through Daniel Day-Lewis portrait of this man. The truth is Day-Lewis merely introduces us to the man he's become in this film, Reynolds Woodcock. That is the man we come to know. There is no performance here is there fully embodied and tangible. The sheer greatness of this work could almost be overlooked by some by the ease in which Day-Lewis encapsulates such a complex figure. It should not be hand waved be though as no one could deliver this performance as Day-Lewis does so here. Day-Lewis can be taken for granted but he should not be. What he taps into here is something special that only he perhaps fully knows as an actor. I will admit I framed this performance over Reynolds is relation to the real Day-Lewis to ease the construction of this review, however I do think there is something to why this is potentially the final performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. I don't think Day-Lewis is like Reynolds as a person, I don't believe he was about to become Ronald Colman in A Double Life, however there is a definite connection in terms of that devotion to one's art. The fact that we get to see this personified through his work here is a true treasure to behold, and this is a masterful turn that could only be delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis.