Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Steve Kloves (Novel: J.K. Rowling)
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Helen McCrory, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, George Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Clémence Poésy, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Frances de la Tour, Evanna Lynch, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Lewis
PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality
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Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the Harry Potter film franchise. The Sorcerer's Stone opened in 2001 and how fitting is it that the final film releases in the summer of next year (it would have been better in the fall since that's when the original released, but that's not important right now)? Yet of the seven Harry Potter novels inventively crafted by J.K. Rowling, there are eight films. Even though a number of the books could have been easily expanded into two parts, it wasn't until this final film that Warner Bros. decided to squeeze out the last monetary bit of the franchise they could before it comes to an end. So how does a novel get split in two successfully? Apparently better than I expected.
By now, most everyone who is considering watching this film already knows the story. A baby, through the power of his mother's love, is spared when the dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) attempted to murder him in his crib. His parents didn't survive, but he did and was put into hiding with his Muggle relatives on Privet Drive. Like his parents, the boy has the blood of witches and wizards flowing in his vein and in order to train him in the arts, he is sent off to Hogwartz School of Witchraft and Wizardry. Seven years and dozens of trials later, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) cannot go back to Hogwarts for Voldemort has returned to full strength and he and his cult of Death Eaters are desperate to find the Boy Who Lived so that Voldemort can exact his revenge by killing him.
Harry is joined by his stalwart companions Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as they attempt to find the remaining four Horcruxes, the magical devices into which Voldemort forged his soul in an effort to remain living even if he were to be defeated. Their goal is to destroy them all in hopes of being able to thwart Voldemort for the final time.
The tone of the film is set early. This is not your child's Harry Potter. The world is dark and dangerous and Voldemort is completely evil. At a council in the home of Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), the Dark Lord learns of where and when Harry Potter will be transported to his new, safe location. We also learn of plans to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic as well as the fate of a Muggle Studies teacher from Hogwarts who is to be used as an example of what Voldemort plans to do once he is fully in control.
You can't watch this film and not find some emotional jolt at various times. From the double death in the first chase scene to the late-film set up for the final chapter. This isn't a movie of happy young witches and wizards learning their arts and getting into trouble. This is a rich, vicious film that doesn't pull punches and knows just what the book series has needed and has infrequently received: a lesson in the harsh realities of the fight between good and evil.
Nearly every facet of the film is at a series-best level: the art direction, costuming, makeup, visual effects, sound effects, music and acting. Each aspect pushes the film from its humble cinematic fluff origins into an actual feature film that does more than just entertaining. It exposes the audience to difficult situations and doesn't look to the silver lining as a guide for how to spin the tale.
When you are constantly surrounded by a master class of thespians, it's no wonder Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are performing at the top of their respective games here. Grint has always been the weakest of the three in my eyes, but he has acquitted himself nicely in this penultimate film. Nearly gone are the whiny vacillations, the snarky comments and the deer-in-headlights glances. Grint now carries the full depth and direness of the role and the situation, delivering a performance that is mature and laudable. Yet, he's still outdone by his compatriots. Watson has a decent amount of talent and she's used it effectively in the last two films, but perhaps the dramatic heft of the narrative has forced her to buckle down and deliver as we haven't seen her before. There is genuine sensitivity and compassion in her performance. Radcliffe has also displayed his talents in the previous films, but he improves on his past here. He has the ability to play comic and dramatic roles with equal weight. The scene where he must take on the physical affectations of six other characters when they are all changed into likenesses of him with Polyjuice Potion is brief, but captures his talent nearly perfectly, but its his scenes alone in the tent with Hermione and Ron where all of his vast tutelage comes to bare.
The cinematography is easily the film's weakest element. In particular the excessive use of overly-shaky handheld cameras, is the least impressive aspect of the film. That's not to say the stationary scenes aren't perfectly lit, composed and shot, but when you have a hard time focusing on the details during fight scenes or can't seem to follow what's going on because you are distracted by the camera movement, there is a problem. I can only hope that technique is used minimally in the final film.
After director David Yates nearly destroyed my faith in the franchise with the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Snogging (since the Half-Blood Prince almost feels immaterial to the plot of the film), I was quite taken aback at how well the seventh film has done at alleviating those trepidations. We could have been given maudlin moments or unnecessary excesses, but for the most part the film does a tremendous job not only feeling faithful to the book, but in creating a renewed interest in the fates of these characters.
The pomp and circumstance of blockbusters is present. We have little doubt of what we are watching, but after 10 years, we are so enamored with these characters that even those on the periphery evoke strong emotional connections with the audience. And there is little doubt that the next film in the series will further play on that love and admiration, ripping our hearts out at each death and injury. Things are only going to get darker before the end and this film has efficiently set our expectations for the emotional final film next year.
November 22, 2010