Daniel Day-Lewis is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most versatile and skilled character actors. In the wake of his recent announcement that he is retiring from acting, the State Theater commemorated his legacy by screening a series of his most celebrated performances. The series began with “My Left Foot” (1989) — the movie that earned Day-Lewis his first Oscar for his incredibly challenging role of Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy. In an almost complete role reversal, the following film “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) spotlights Day-Lewis as a hunky, tanned leading man, the adopted son of the Mohican tribe who fights in the French and Indian War, with a luxurious mass of hair and a deeply V-necked blouse. In the third film, “In the Name of the Father” (1993), Day-Lewis again proves his talent and intrigue as an actor, depicting the emotional turmoil of the wrongly convicted Gerry Conlon in the aftermath of the IRA terrorist attack in 1974 London.
These first three films are all solid and interesting performances by Day-Lewis, ones that put him on the map as a skilled and promising actor. But it’s not until “Gangs of New York” (2002) that Day-Lewis embodies the performative streak that becomes his legacy. In Scorsese’s chaotic and enduring portrayal of urban criminality and immigrant factionism, Day-Lewis plays the brutal but charismatic war chief of Old New York, hovering between flamboyant charm and deranged bloodlust. Next in the film series was the critically acclaimed Spielberg film “Lincoln” (2012), where Day-Lewis becomes unrecognizable as the titular 16th president, wholly embodying Lincoln’s voice, mannerisms and magnetic presence. The series rounded out with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” (2007), where Day-Lewis plays a more subdued but power-hungry oil magnate in the black gold frenzy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Arguably his most compelling performance, Day-Lewis’s seedy lust for wealth and his indifference to being soaked in oil is absolutely mesmerizing.
Day-Lewis’s acting career is a collection of unbelievably taxing and impressive roles, each demanding a deeply complex and fully imagined person. He is one of Hollywood’s greatest, proving time and time again his ability to completely embody his role, including his immersive method acting preparation (he hunted game to prep for “Mohicans” and shadowed a butcher for “Gangs of New York”). With heavy hearts, the film community says goodbye to this master of the silver screen; Day-Lewis officially announced his retirement from acting, with his newest film “Phantom Thread” as his swan song.
In “Phantom Thread,” Day-Lewis undertakes the most challenging and most subdued role of his career. He plays Reynolds Woodcock, a polished, elegant designer of women’s couture. He is a narcissistic genius, wholly consumed with himself and his own brilliance, whose designs are worthy of the praise. The opening scene of the film is one of the most captivating and gorgeously done sequences in cinema — we see Woodcock meticulously grooming himself in a series of simple frames that together introduce his detail-oriented personality, his refinement and his quiet magnetism.
The stormy dynamic between Woodcock and Alma (Vicky Krieps, “The Colony”), a waitress he quickly becomes infatuated with, is the binding thread of the film. She becomes his muse, living in his house and modeling for his designs — in many scenes she is like a porcelain mannequin, draped in luxurious fabric, more of a doll than a person. But Krieps does a brilliant job of shading Alma with layers of nuance, showing both her eagerness for the trappings of Woodcock’s world and her trepidation at the uselessness of it all.
“Phantom Thread” is a dark, moving drama peppered with moments of subtle hilarity that ring true to director Paul Thomas Anderson’s unorthodox sense of humor. Stitching the film together is a spectacular score by Johnny Greenwood (“There Will Be Blood”), of Radiohead fame. His composition is sharp and quivering, needle-like and sweepingly elegant, like the fabric of Woodcock’s gowns. It’s enough to make Alexandre Desplat shake in his boots. The costume design is also incredible, with each scene featuring a collection of artfully tailored couture gowns.
“Phantom Thread” is a quietly haunting film and a homage to the radiance of Daniel Day-Lewis. It is an elegant sendoff to a man who has made his irrevocable mark on the industry and his audiences.