Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Review

(3.5 STARS)

The decision to release the seventh and final Harry Potter film in two parts gives the filmmakers the chance to give every Potter-phile what they want: a vivid to-the-book adaptation of the saga’s darkest chapter. No longer would these folks (myself included, to a certain degree) leave the theater grumbling over the director or screenwriter’s creative choices. That being said, it quite obviously saddles Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 1 with the unfortunate task of standing on its own awkwardly for eight months before the final chapter sees the light of day. Ironically, the film’s biggest asset is the ominous tone of finality that’s struck very early on and stays with the film for nearly its entire 150-minute running time. But once those 150 minutes are done, we’re left hanging. As the first chapter in what will hopefully be a moving, five-hour fantasy epic, this film is brilliant. As its own entity, it’s imperfect but still quite good.

The film’s opening moments are perhaps the best of the series. With only days left until Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) comes of age, it’s time for the Order of the Phoenix to start preparing for Harry’s magical protections—the ones that have kept him safe since he was a baby—to be lifted. His aunt, uncle, and cousin are forced to pack up and move away. His best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), prepare to possibly never see their families again, as they will join Harry on his quest to help Harry find and destroy the five remaining horcruxes, or pieces of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul.

In this film, as in J.K. Rowling’s book, no character is safe. The wizarding world is in all-out war, and Voldemort and his followers no longer bother using stealth to their advantage. Because they are so powerful, opponents are happy to either join them when the alternative is being killed. As a result, they take over the Ministry of Magic quite quickly, and after that, there’s nowhere for anyone to hide.

It’s so nice to see each and every subplot get its fair shake, just as it is nice to see every character get an appropriate swan song. On top of that, I was also quite pleased that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves revert back to the dark tone of the exceptional fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, rather than the more easy-going tone of the sixth film, Half-Blood Prince.

I found the film’s technical features to be outstanding. There’s an action sequence early on that could measure up to any action scene in the entire series. The cinematography is terrific (as it was in the last few films), and the art direction and the score both stood out to me. There’s also a very clever and well-made animated sequence toward the film’s conclusion.

And our three main actors have turned out their best work of the series. Their characters are pushed to the brink and have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They convey these emotions quite well (they have for a few films now), but their best work comes when it’s just the three of them interacting with one another. Rupert Grint might be the standout in this film, as Ron goes through a few more complex transformations than Harry or Hermione.

But as good as everything is, the film is held back by its lack of a conclusion. It’s only part of a story, and when the pieces come together next July, it might be half of a four-star film. There’s just no way it could attain such a rating on its own without wrapping things up. In that respect, I think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 1 is, by itself, about as good as it could possibly be.

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