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Theatrical Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
November 18th, 2010

Rating: 4/5

Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs
Studio: Warner Bros.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 is, on a basic level, a film about a search. The early entries in the Harry Potter franchise saw our titular hero and his two closest confidants seemingly falling into frisky adventures (though, of course, we have since learned that nothing has ever just happened to Harry), building over time until the adventure was the search, not whatever great battle awaited us. It seems fitting that this penultimate entry into the franchise is all search, no resolution.

Yet, more than just a film about the search, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is an emotional outing suffused with the unshakeable feeling of something essential and vital being missing. If we search, it is because something is not there, because something is gone. In the pursuit, emptiness is the constant companion.

We have long known that, to defeat Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), much will be lost (not could be lost, will be lost). As the series has turned darker and more serious, beloved friends of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) have been steadily taken from him. But THE DEATHLY HALLOWS reaffirms what we have all known, and what Harry was reminded of at the end of THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE – he will always have Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), no matter the cost. In the second-to-last film in the series, the three set themselves on course to finish Dumbledore’s work and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, thus weakening an ascendant Voldemort. It is the magical quest everything has been leading them to for so many years – it is their destiny.

The magic of THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is, rightly, a dark sort. It seems strange to marvel at the work director David Yates does to create such an unsettling world, but it’s inescapably well-crafted. As the three mount their desperate fleeing, Yates presents us with surroundings that feel post-apocalyptic – blown out and burnt out and unnervingly quiet. But, for everyone we have to come care about in the Potter universe, it really is a post- apocalyptic world. What we have left is not what we had before; what has been taken is simply so much of the light. It is bleak and it is dim and it is brave. It’s no coincidence that the darkness the covers the film works so well here – it’s a practiced one. THE DEATHLY HALLOWS brings back Yates, who previously helmed entries five and six in the franchise, and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who has penned every Harry Potter film save one (THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX). Yates has directed the darkest (and deepest) films in the franchise, and Kloves has scripted the series’ steady descent into the black.

In THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, our time in the magic world is more precious than ever, and we must find delight even in tension-filled scenes in the Ministry of Magic, because soon we will be thrust out into a world that is almost too real. Yates uses a cooler palate and a sharper focus when Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape out into the wilderness. No one would mistake their surroundings as being magical, no one would doubt their feelings of being rooted in something far from joy. But pulling the three out into an unfamiliar world, forcing them to hide in nature’s expanse, allows the visceral feel of the film to greatly expand, and we are frequently treated to breathtaking locations and beauty.

Yet, one of the essential pieces “missing” from the world of THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is actually a location – a location that has long been the most joy-filled and most magical, Hogwarts. Part of the heartbreak of the film (and its parent book) was set for us previously – the decision for the three to not return to Hogwarts for their final year. Taking us away from Hogwarts is both wrenching and necessary – just as it was in the book. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were no longer safe at Hogwarts, and it was impossible to protect it and what it represented from within its walls. Of course, a return to Hogwarts looms in the final film and, somehow, knowing what we have waiting there makes what we had there before all the more precious.

It seems almost silly to comment on performance in a Harry Potter film at this point in the series – the entire cast is comprised of experienced veteran actors and three talented youngsters who have portrayed their respective roles for almost a decade. Our leads and supporting cast continue to be excellent, but the real heavy lifting in DEATHLY HALLOWS comes from an unexpected source. Rupert Grint has always been a pitch-perfect Ron Weasley, equal parts steadfast and silly, but in THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, he is asked to be neither. Grint rises to the task and turns in his best performance to date, making Ron’s emotional struggle carry significant weight, while also serving as a new touchstone of the price everyone has been asked to pay.

However, as just the first part in a two part series, it’s hard for THE DEATHLY HALLOWS to ultimately satisfy. Talk about a search, talk about missing something – we search for the battle, we miss resolution. This first part is the dark days of war, the struggle and the grind, the wait before enemies can truly be brought to justice. There is a great fight and a great reunion on the horizon, and THE DEATHLY HALLOWS makes neat work of leading us there, preparing us for blood and battle with sweat and search.

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