Mark Reviews Movies

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Rhys Ifans, Imelda Staunton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality)

Running Time: 2:26

Release Date: 11/19/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 18, 2010

It's the beginning of the end. More specifically, the final hour is the start of the finish, while the rest serves to clear up the loose strands of plot lost in the cuts by the series' screenwriter Steve Kloves (save for, not coincidentally, the best film in the franchise) and make up for all those removals by hitting each and every point of the final tome of J.K. Rowling's fantasy saga.

No minor character is too trivial (including one introduced here and treated as though he's been around for a while). No roundabout plot point is too convoluted, and that includes the entire narrative arc of this first installment of the last chapter. Rowling earned every momentary dead end, underplayed demise, and reunion with characters past that came in the last book, while Kloves, especially in the previous and even more especially in this first half of the last movie, merely echoes with the hope of recapturing.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is an improvement on its predecessor, which bypassed the most important and intriguing aspect of the story in the revealing of the villain's past. Now, though, we have the opposite: a screenplay that mirrors almost every occurrence and has no sense of narrative thrust. Devotees of Rowling's books have clamored for faithfulness, and this movie, separated from its imminent conclusion and hence the vital part of the story, is what those shouts have wrought.

The movie opens with all three of our heroes acknowledging the end is nigh. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) watches as his guardians the Dursleys (left voiceless and losing their mild redemption) pack up and leave the house, as Harry reminisces in the cupboard under the stairs which he once called his bedroom.  Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) erases her parents' memories of her and removes herself from all the family photos. Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) stands outside his family home the Burrow and looks into the wide expanse of the unknown.

Director David Yates, who will have helmed half of the installments in the series when all is said and done, again takes an admirable stance of developing his central protagonists in silent scenes amidst—and, in one scene, during—the noise and flash of magic spells. The trio's time as students at Hogwarts is complete, so while their friends and acquaintances off-screen deal with the turncoat-or-is-he Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) as the school's headmaster, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are on the run in the woods, among the dales, and on the rocky cliffs of the English countryside.

Apart from an infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, where the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), his Death Eaters, and other power-hungry bureaucrats (including Harry's old foe Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who fits in quite well as an inquisitor) have taken over the government, printing propaganda pamphlets of the impurity of half-blood and muggle-born witches and wizards, the three are alone. Isolated from the world, surrounded by spells that block others from seeing or hearing them, and holding on to a pendant that houses a sliver of Voldemort's soul and puts the possessor in a rotten mood, the movie is, at its most effective times, devastatingly quiet.

Harry and Hermione share a silly dance just to smile again one more time. Ron sits alone in the tent, listening to pirate radio, hoping not to hear the names of any of their friends and family on the daily listing of the missing and dead. As juxtaposition, Ron must later face an imposing, monstrous blob that transforms itself into a vision of his own feelings of inferiority.

Not much happens in terms of plot during the heroes' extended seclusion, but Yates concentrates on the personalities. It's far more involving than what precedes it, during which Kloves goes step by avoidable step for the three to obtain the locket, even introducing a most uselessly critical character Mundungus Fletcher (Andy Linden) just so he can be a red herring. It's a tug-of-war battle between Yates' introspection and Kloves' literalism seen best perhaps when the emotional potential of Harry's visit to his hometown, where the ruins of his home stand as a memorial and reminder to the sacrifice of parents, is diverted into a Gothic horror sequence in a musty house where one minor revelation occurs.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 picks up near the end (especially in the telling of the tale of the titular objects—three means to try to avoid Death—in jagged, animated silhouette), but structurally, the narrative is mainly backstory leading to something resembling an inciting incident (but coming across more like a grave-robbing cliffhanger) for the final battle between Harry and his archnemesis. The build-up to part two is a fine tease to the end of a franchise that has quickly started to feel like a chore.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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