Written by: Steve Kloves
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes
Harry Potter is one of those franchises with a lot of die-hard, crazy fans who love this series to death. I am not one of those people. However, I would consider myself a moderate fan of the series as I did read all the books (though my memories of them are not the best) and I have seen all the films. Of the films, I do believe the series has been more or less consistent with some entries being better than others. But now we come to the seventh film. Rather than adapt all of the seventh book, producers decided to split the book into two films. The question is, how does Part One hold up without its second half.
The film picks up shortly after the events of The Half Blood Prince. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his death eaters are rising in power and need to be stopped by the Order of the Phoenix. In order to kill Voldemort, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has dropped out of Hogwarts to find the Horcruxes, the items that give Voldemort immortality, and destroy them. On his quest, he’s aided by his two best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson). However, they don’t know where the Horcruxes are or how to destroy them. On top of that, Voldemort has infiltrated the Ministry of Magic and has made Harry Potter a wanted man.
Right off the bat, I have to praise the tone of the film. A big problem I had with The Half Blood Prince was its lack of tension. You never really feel the threat of Voldemort and the death eaters. Where as here, the film is not only tense, but it is bleak and to an extent hopeless. There are scenes of torture and death to constantly remind you how dark everything is. There are comedic moments here in there, but it very rarely distracts and takes away from the tone. The other thing that makes the tone of the film so dark is the gorgeous cinematography. Visually, the film is very dark with lots of shadows. There’s sort of a gothic look to the film. While Yates’ Potter films have always looked great, The Deathly Hallows goes above the others visually.
All the major actors from previous films return here. In the early Potter films, I always felt the performances from the adults stole the show. But this time, the three leads truly are the best part of the film. Every film, these actors seem to get better and better and this is no exception. All three have to show a wide range of emotions from happiness to despair. What’s more is it’s easy to relate to the characters as they are likeable and go through things that most teenagers go through (albeit while using magic and fighting death eaters). After all these films, you get really emotionally invested in these characters. The relationship between the three is really the heart of the film and the series as a whole. While all three are good, if I had to choose a favourite it be Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. He balances a lot in this and I think it’s his best performance of the series. But the actor who surprised me the most in this is Rupert Grint. In the early films, Ron always annoyed me and was my least favourite of the three. But in this, I thought he was great. My favourite aspect of his character in this was him having to deal with the inadequacies he felt. I think this was a great place to take his character and took the things that bugged me about the character and use them in a good way. And of course, Emma Watson is just perfect has Hermoine and to some extent, has to play a character torn between Harry and Ron.
The supporting cast here is great as well. Ralph Fiennes returns as Voldemort and has more to do in this then in previous installments. To be fair, his presence is still felt more than it is seen, but he still manages to be creepy, dark, powerful, and strangely likable. The amount of other supporting characters is insane. Most of them returning from previous films. These characters include the Weasley’s, Madeye Moody, Dobby the house elf, Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, the Malfoys, Luna Lovegood, Hagrid, Bellatrix Lestrange and others. While some of these characters have very little screen time, all did a good job and were welcome additions. The Malfoys had a seemingly very interesting story that was just briefly touched upon. It was also great to finally see Dobby return. The CGI was better this time around and Toby Jones did a good job voicing Dobby, even if he wasn’t in the film very long. One of the few new characters introduced here is Luna’s father Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans). He only has two scenes in the film, but he does a great job in both, especially the second scene. All in all, the supporting cast was full of colorful and interesting characters.
Of all the films in the series, this one is probably the most action packed. The film opens with a chase through the skies as the order of the phoenix tries to get Harry to the Burrow (the Weasley’s home) whilst escaping an ambush of death eaters. Through the film, there are large encounters such as this, as while as smaller more intimate battles. These action scenes are all very well done and the effects used for the various spells and magic is excellent. Yet as effective as all this was, the quiet, slow-paced, character building scenes were just as important. These are the scenes that really had my attention. There’s a scene in particular between Harry and Hermoine where no dialogue is said, but it’s a really emotional scene all the same. This is easily the most emotionally engaging film of the series.
There’s a lot of great individual scenes in this film. I already mentioned the scene between Harry and Hermoine, but there’s a lot of others. There’s also a really powerful torture scene for example. You don’t see much, but you don’t need to. There’s also a great scene involving Ron and Harry trying to destroy a Horcruxe. I love this scene mainly because it plays on Ron’s emotions very well. Probably my favourite scene is a very surprising, very well done animated sequence. I won’t say when this scene happens, but I will say it’s beautifully animated and very memorable. Also, the last ten minutes of the film are just awesome.
As good as this film is, it isn’t without its flaws. For one, because the story wasn’t meant to be told in two parts, I felt the ending was really abrupt. It wasn’t terrible mind you, but still, it left a lot to be desired. Some may say I can’t criticize that because Part Two is on the way, but since it isn’t out yet, Part One has to be judged on its own. I also feel there were a few comedic moments that felt forced and broke the tension. But to be fair, these moments were few and far between.
I admit, it is hard to really critique this film without its second half. I’m willing to bet when Part Two comes out, I’ll judge both films as one cohesive unit (similar to how I judge the Kill Bill and Lord of the Rings films). With that said, on its own two feet, The Deathly Hallows Part One is a great film that impressed me quite a bit. The acting from everyone is excellent, the story is good, the cinematography is stunning, the music is good, everything is top-notch. I can only imagine Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will get better upon the release of Part Two.