Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Warner Brother, PG-13)

Childhood things like schoolbooks and quidditch matches have been set aside as our three heroes, now young adults, set off on their own like resistance fighters in a World War II movie.

Critics and fans alike have noted the progressive darkening of the Harry Potter films, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 takes this trend to a whole new level. The perpetually overcast skies and dimly lit interiors of the penultimate Harry Potter film reflect the increasing encroachment of the forces of evil into normal life. Childhood things like schoolbooks and quidditch matches have been set aside as our three heroes, now young adults, set off on their own like resistance fighters in a World War II movie.
The analogy is particularly apt because for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) the whole world is essentially behind enemy lines; they never can be sure who to trust, nor how long a safe haven will remain safe. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has gained control of the Ministry of Magic and there’s a price on Harry’s head while informers are everywhere. At the same time, England has been transformed into a totalitarian state with blood purity laws echoing that of Nazi Germany—except in this case the Aryans are the pure-blood wizards while the Jews/Gypsies are those with muggle (non-wizard) blood.
Much more than in any of the previous films, this one is the Harry/Hermione/Ron show. Realizing the danger he poses to others, Harry determines to take off on his own to find the horcruxes, magical objects containing fragments of Voldemort’s soul that must be destroyed before he can be killed. Of course his two loyal friends won’t let him go it alone (and as Ron rightly points out, without Hermione’s knowledge and expertise they’d soon be dead anyway), but the other characters are at best playing supporting roles while many are reduced to cameos. The cast is a veritable roll call of notable British actors (including Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson and Jason Isaacs) but two deserve particular mention: Bill Nighy (in his first Potter film) as Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic and Imelda Staunton as the truly frightening Dolores Umbridge.
The human consequences of totalitarian rule is a constant theme in Deathly Hallows. In one of the first scenes we see Hermione casting the obliviate charm on her parents to remove all traces of her from their memories before she leaves home (her image even disappears from family photographs). The first scene of torture also occurs very early, as we see former Hogwarts teacher Charity Burbage (Carolyn Pickles) enjoying the unpleasant hospitality of Voldemort at a gathering of his black-clad minions. Her crime: defending the rights of mudbloods, a derogatory term for wizards born to non-magical parents. There’s also a technically impressive but overly long set piece in the Ministry of Magic that recalls the worker’s underground city in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Although the prevailing mood is grim, Deathly Hallows mixes in a surprising amount of humor as well as several spectacular action scenes. One of the best comes early in the film when Harry is transported from his home to the Weasley’s in an airborne convoy featuring six doubles of Harry to try to throw off Voldemort’s dementors. It’s a fantastic chase scene preceded by a bit of barracks humor as six characters, including Hermione, are transformed by Polyjuice potion into Harry lookalikes.
Sentiment is not shorted in Deathly Hallows. A death scene near the end of the film is as touching as anything I’ve seen on screen in quite a while and has the feeling of soldiers honoring a comrade fallen in battle. The wartime atmosphere is also evident in the wedding of Bill Weasley (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur Delacour (Clemency Poesy), which conveys a sentiment often reported by those who have lived through a war: the good things in life are that much more precious when you know it could all end at any time.
On a more prosaic note, there’s also a romantic subplot among our three principals, and of course jealousy rears its ugly head—what would you expect to happen when there are two guys and only one girl? At 146 minutes this film is crammed with everything including the kitchen sink, and yet director David Yates (who also directed the last two Potter films as well as Deathly Hallows: Part II) and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has written the scripts for every Potter film except one) got the mix of elements and timing almost exactly right. As a result Deathly Hallows does not seem long at all.
The technical elements are all first rate; the credits go on practically forever with all the makeup artists and special effects artists and stunt men and whatnot. CGI and live action are combined skillfully, aided by the film’s dark palette, and clearly no expense was spared in making everything look impressive. My favorite sequence is a quiet one, however, in which silhouettes in the style of Lotte Reiniger are used to illustrate the story of the three brothers. | Sarah Boslaugh

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