Harry gears up for his destiny in brooding 'Deathly Hallows Part 1'
It's the wheeziest of clichés when critics write that each Harry Potter movie is darker than the last. Of course they are. The point of J. K. Rowling's seven-book fantasy series is to take her protagonists on the journey from childhood innocence through traumatic adolescence, and into the perils, responsibilities and consequences of adulthood. The metaphor for this interior journey is the kids' progress through the seven levels of school, which is in turn a metaphor for one's progress through life—which gets darker and more complex as you go along.
The interior journey of Harry and his friends is the heart of the books, along with the notion that choices made along the way can come back to haunt or reward you as life goes on.
Especially in the last book in the series, now the seventh film, the brooding and foreboding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), a story so enormous, it's divided into two halves (Part 2 comes out next summer). Part 1 plays out like a middle act, in which we wait—and wait—for the inevitable, but director David Yates is scrupulous about re-introducing beloved characters and weaving in threads from the past to construct a solid foundation for the epic showdown to come.
Working from a script by Potter veteran Steve Kloves (they last collaborated on HP and the Half-Blood Prince), Yates works in refresher material on the story so far (often in clever, entertaining ways), but Deathly Hallows is strictly for the faithful. There's enough action and comedy to keep things moving, but the focus is on the Passion of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), coming to grips with his destiny, and what it means not only to himself, but to the larger world.
That world is in turmoil: Voldemort (a hideously snake-like Ralph Fiennes), and his minions have taken over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts School (which, sadly, does not figure in this story at all). Pureblood wizard extremists are persecuting "mudblood" non-wizards, Muggles are being murdered, and everyone is searching for Harry. As long as Harry lives, the Dark Lord is vulnerable, but if Harry dies, Voldemort becomes invincible.
Harry is on the lam with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). Whenever evildoers close in, they "Disapparate" to a new, remote location (forest, desolate moor, snowy mountain), while on a self-imposed mission to identify, find and destroy the last six objects (called Horcruxes) that hold the key to Voldemort's power, using (in classic fairy tale fashion) three magical gifts bequeathed to them by late headmaster Dumbledore. But the one Horcrux they find, a sinister locket, not only resists destruction, it produces angst in whoever wears it, causing doubt and friction between the old friends.
As in the book, these lengthy sojourns in empty landscapes tends to drag down the middle of the story. But there are lovely, quiet moments along the way. (A sad, playful dance between Harry and the depressed Hermione after Ron has left in a huff expresses a world of emotion with no dialogue at all). A fun early scene convenes some of the usual suspects, many of whom become decoy Harrys to fool their pursuers, in a chase through the night skies. (Which gives Radcliffe a chance to do some droll impersonations of the other characters.)
There's excitement a-plenty—a near-drowning in a frozen river, a giant snake attack, implied torture (nothing too gory, but the rating is PG-13). And Yates employs a marvelous sepia-and-white animation sequence to relate the Tale of Three Brothers (a wizarding fairy tale crucial to the meaning of the "Deathly Hallows"—three objects whose owner can defy Death).
As usual, Kloves cuts out a lot of material we'd love to see, like the backstory of Dumbledore and his family contained in a scathing post-mortem biography (briefly glimpsed in the film), and Harry's resentment at all his beloved headmaster failed to tell him about his own destiny. But the return of Dobby, a "free elf" (thanks to Harry's compassion in an earlier episode), and what it means to the fate of Harry and his friends, is an appropriate plateau in Deathly Hallows with which to conclude this first half and gear up for the grand finale.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS
★★★ (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>
With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Ralph Fiennes. Written by Steve Kloves, from the novel by J. K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates.
A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13. 147 minutes.
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