Film Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Our filmmakers were in a difficult spot going into this awkwardly-not-final Harry Potter film. Even acknowledging that in this franchise, each film is truly only a piece of the whole, this last chapter of our story in particular seems ill-suited to further fracturing. The seventh book of J.E. Rowling’s sprawling series is the place where all details become relevant, all action becomes crucial, all emotion must be served. The novel moves with tremendous momentum. Despite its length, it is every bit the one-sitting read that so many treated it as (myself included). Breaking it into two pieces was not going to be easy.
Despite this challenge, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I is the best film of the series so far. By nature, it is a fragment that cannot stand on its own without full knowledge of all that has preceded and the promise of conclusions to come. But it is a glorious fragment that finally gave me the exhilarating feeling I’ve been craving and have never quite reached, even as I’ve enjoyed most of the previous films. Everything comes together. Our principal three actors, who have only improved with every film, have reached a level of perfection in these roles. The cinematography is gorgeous; the action scenes are exciting without seeming to exist only to show off special effects; the music seems pulled back, and keeps from overwhelming any scenes. But most importantly, with this extra amount of running time, we lose the rushed, choppy feeling that frustrated me incredibly in previous films—especially in director David Yates’s first entry in the series, The Order of the Phoenix. We are allowed time with our characters.
That last bit is huge. These are great characters, and I loved being able to revel in that a bit. At many points, previous films either treated Harry, Hermione, and Ron as just action figures solving puzzles and dodging bullies, or leaned too heavily on their most prominent traits (the troubled hero, the loyal brain, the insecure comic relief), not doing them proper service as fully developed characters. Here, there’s a leisure and a subtlety to the presentation of their relationships, decisions and actions. I imagine some viewers will feel that the movie slows too much in scenes where perhaps not a lot “happens,” but I appreciated the chance to linger in those moments, just a little. We need some time to remember why these people are fighting so hard for each other, and why, within the bigger picture of saving not just their own lives, but everyone’s, they never lose that personal loyalty.
Perhaps this new tone is achievable primarily because of the straightforward nature of where we stand in our saga. Find the Horcruxes, destroy them, save the world. We will not be returning to Hogwarts this year. It’s a relief to be able to focus simply on the events at hand, and not be constantly reminded of the passing of an entire school year (this is a non-issue in the books, but something that’s always been bothersome in the movies). If you haven’t read the novels—to some extent, even if you have—there are points where the film glosses over details and explanations that it might have made clearer. I believe that at this point in the Harry Potter story, we can all permit ourselves to just go with it, and accept that sometimes the sword will appear where we need it to appear, because hey: it’s magic.
The highest praise I can give this film is to say that watching it feels the way reading the books does. One previous film in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, came very close to reaching that point. I give much credit, again, to the actors Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint for the deft performances they are now able to deliver, that let us go along with these characters without ever being pulled out of the adventure. Veteran Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves (he’s done all but The Order of the Phoenix) picked the perfect place, action-wise and emotion-wise, to conclude this film and prepare us for the finale. I cannot wait.
Final Grade: A