Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (henceforth being referred to as Deathly Hallows: Part 1) is a beautifully shot film, with good performances and deep emotional connection. As with Half-Blood Prince, director David Yates is the master of infusing humor into the gloomiest of situations and narratives. At its heart, this is a film with a deep sadness to it, poetically shown in Hermione’s prologue sequence. Yet, Yates has enough light moments to break the tension and anguish. There is also a dance scene between Harry and Hermione that plays as an abbreviation of the whole film – beginning down, hope, laughter and friendship take charge, but ultimately the sense of impending tragedy and the weight of the situation suck the life and fun from the room again as the song ends. Like many have said, this feels like a very different Harry Potter film. First, it is not structured around a school year at Hogwarts. Other than the prologue and epilogue, the story is completely isolated to Harry Potter and by extension Ron and Hermione (as they are with him most of the time). Yates has structured the narrative to only show what Potter experiences, everything else is off camera, thus creating a real sense of loneness and desolation for Potter. Other characters pop in and out, but the camera stays with Potter. Yates also took a much more character driven approach to the story, which works quite well given the shooting and narrative style. Many of the other Potter films are action or mystery driven – the characters must do something or solve something. Here, there are elements of that, but the three are alone and lost, not sure what to do. Inner-conflict arises as the pressure mounts and walls seem to be closing in, which gives all three great character work, which in turn allows the three characters to build an even deeper relationship with the audience making the decisions, actions and events all the more poignant. Another aspect of the film that Yates has done in an interesting way is his portrayal of the Harry Potter world under the control and influence of Voldemort, equating it to a fascist regime (not unlike the Nazi takeover in Germany circa 1933), fitted with puppet figures, blood cleansing and Gestapo (and the brilliantly designed propaganda – I particularly loved the book in Umbridge’s desk: When Muggles Attack). This narrative element works well in the story, while calling forth emotional reaction and memory from the audience. However, the film does demand a few things from its audience – first, being that it is the seventh film, it assumes that the audience has a good working knowledge of the other films (and for fans this is fine, but for casual viewers there may be issues recalling who characters are and what they are referring to), and second, it expects its audience to understand that this is merely the first part of a two part film. It does have its own story that is resolved within the film, BUT the main story and character arcs continue into part 2. This film is about Harry, Ron and Hermione overcoming complete detachment and despair. The narrative is presented with great action set pieces, but, as stated above, character driven, which for those looking for non-stop action will leave sections of the film feeling slow. But, the character work done in this film makes all that is to come resonate with much more impact, and therefore a welcome and needed element (and personally, I did not find the narrative slow). Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a fantastic mix of desperation, bleakness and hope, with humor purposely and expertly sprinkled in, leaving the audience with a good emotional piece perfectly setting up the next (and final) part of the Harry Potter story.

Aesthetic and acting achievements: Yates has for the third time directed a wonderful Potter film, appealing to fans of all ages. His use of dark elements and comedic touches are what makes these films exceptional and connect with fans and filmgoers (while also making for very good cinema). If there is any other achievement that stands out with the work of Yates, it is Eduardo Serra’s cinematography. The film is a breathtaking visual treat. Stuart Craig continues to outdo himself with each film, and here his production design is magnificent (the Ministry of Magic sets are amazing; really the whole scene is). The film has a lot of emotional weight to it, characters on the precipice of utter anguish and disheartenment. The visuals and performances tell the story and relay the emotions, but Alexandre Desplat’s moving score elegantly accompanies accentuating the tone and emotional resonance of the film. There are also a number of small but remarkable performances from the film’s supporting cast, especially Bill Nighy (whose opening monologue is just another example of his brilliance), Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Peter Mullan, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Helena Bonham Carter, and the (awesome) Ministry of Magic trio: David O’Hara, Steffan Rodri and Sophie Thompson. There is also good voice work from Simon McBurney and Toby Jones. The stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are all outstanding, turning in their best performances of the series. They, truly, are what make this franchise so special.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is tragic tonally focusing on Harry, Hermione and Ron providing meaningful character moments, but has the humor and action set pieces to entertain as well (after seeing this, I cannot wait for part 2). 10/10

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