Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) – Review

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a wonderful conclusion to the Harry Potter series. Like his other Potter films, director David Yates mixes in lighter moments and humor into what has predominately been a dark and emotionally dark story. However, there is a lot less of it in this film, as the sheer scale and emotional weight on all the characters of what is about to transpire (Voldemort and his army standing outside Hogwarts about to lay siege, surely meaning the obliteration of all they are and love) gives little room for humor – though Yates is still able to inject just enough into the drama to give the audience time to breath and cut the tension. As with Part 1, the aesthetic of this film is magnificent. Yates and his creative team have done an absolutely marvelous job getting the look and tone of the film just right. While Part 1 was mostly a character piece, Part 2 is more action based, producing a very entertaining film that briskly moves forward (essentially the whole film takes place over the course of one day), though there is still some very good character work. Yates also slightly deviates from his shooting style in Part 1 (aside from the prologue and epilogue, it is focused completely on Harry’s perspective). In Part 2, the camera stays with Harry primarily during the main section of the film but also leaves his perspective at times to capture other story moments that he is not involved in (though, for some there are moments left off-screen that they would have liked to have seen). Yates certainly wants to preserve the narrative style of experiencing the story and action through Harry, which is why many moments still occur off-screen and the emotional impact of them is left to when Harry discovers them rather than when they actually occur. Yates, though, must leave Harry from time to time as there are too many important story moments that he is not a part of that would have left the overall narrative feeling disconnected for the audience had they not been shown, and Yates gives the audience a few needed character moments (for characters that are not Harry, Ron or Hermione) that also work well. However, again, most of the big emotional moments are placed with Harry’s perspective. A complaint about the film is that it is not dramatic enough (presumably some fans wanting there to be more melodrama), which seems to go hand-in-hand with a few moments being left off-screen. However, taking this film in the context of the whole series (of films, not the books), Yates has Harry, Ron and Hermione overwhelmed with bleak feelings of dread, tittering on the edge of hopelessness (though, all three seem to never lose hope, as they take stock in each other, and it is their friendship and support of each other that really gets them through the awful times they go through, the incalculable negative odds against them and gives them the strength to go on and take the hits; at its heart, Deathly Hallows is really a beautiful film about friendship and perseverance). The character work Yates has done for these characters (from Order of the Phoenix on) makes their reactions to the events feel very believable for their characters. Harry takes the dismal news, deaths and everything else and just pushes on. With Part 1 included, Deathly Hallows is essentially a four hour plus movie, and thus Yates had to decide what characters and moments where essential to the narrative of the series. Sure, die-hard fans (me included) would love to see everything and every character have their moments, but it would have made for a terrible film. Yates made the decision to put most of the character work and emotional resonance on his three main characters, and the series is all the better for it. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 serves as an epic and emotionally poignant ending for Harry, Ron and Hermione (which is what we wanted, as they are characters we love and have seen grow up and develop through the years).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Yates, who made his feature film (at least, non-TV feature) debut with Order of the Phoenix, has again proved himself to be a top director. The four Harry Potter films he has done are all brilliant, showing off an ability to garner great performances, create narratives that have emotional resonance and provide an enthralling aesthetic (I cannot wait to see what he does next). Composer Alexandre Desplat arranges a wondrous score for the film that captures the tragedy, scale and wonder (beautifully incorporating part of Nicholas Hooper’s enchanting score from Half-Blood Prince into the Snape revelation scene). Desplat always does great work, but this is among his most emotionally engaging scores. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra, again (as he shot Part 1), does unbelievable work. The look of the film is spellbinding (as much as I like the work of Bruno Delbonnel on Half-Blood Price, and he is maybe my favorite D.P., I think Serra’s is the best of the series). Production designer Stuart Craig has designed all eight films. There are not enough positive words to talk about how amazing a job he has done throughout. Here, his work, which seems to take on a minimalist style as everything crumbles around the characters, is exquisite. Along with Yates and Serra, Craig has created the perfect tone and look for this film. Like the technical work behind the camera, the acting throughout the series has been phenomenal, boasting maybe the greatest group of British actors ever assembled. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 yet again features great work across the board, but like the other films a few performances stick out. Matthew Lewis (it is great to see Neville get to be more involved) and Helena Bonham Carter (loved her scene in which her character is being impersonated by Hermione) are quite good. However, among the supporting performances, the work of Warwick Davies (whose scene negotiating with Harry near the beginning is magnificent), Ralph Fiennes (who actually gets to bring more human emotion to Voldemort in this film) and especially Alan Rickman (whose work in the Snape revelation scenes is tragic and beautiful) is outstanding (many critics even calling for Rickman to receive an Oscar nod, though that will probably never happen for this film, given that it is an adventure fantasy). With each film, the leading trio grows both as characters and actors. Daniel Radcliffe has such a tough role in this film, having in a sense the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet he does a fine job of emoting enough to connect with the audience while being the hero that Harry is. Rupert Grint started out as the comedic element to the trio. Through his great work, he developed Ron into one of the best characters in the series (again, talking solely about the films here, not that Ron is not also awesome in the books). Emma Watson is maybe the best of the three, as she is able to capture the strength of Hermione but also let the moments of fear and dread sneak forth behind her outward strength. She gives a touching and radiant performance in the film.

Summary & score: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the perfect ending to this beloved film series. It has all the drama, emotion, humor, character, and action to make it yet another excellent film in the series. 10/10

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