Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 signals the beginning of the end for the titular heroes journey, 6 years after finding out he was a wizard. It’s also the first film in the franchise that doesn’t feature the cozy and gothic wizarding school Hogwarts and the daily hustle and bustle of kids being kids. While Part 1 may encompass only half of the final book, franchise screenwriter Steve Kloves still manages to tell a complete story. But don’t let that distract you from the fact that it is still half of a whole story, the preamble for the final battle between good and evil.
Far removed from the family friendly tone that the first two films carried, every film since year 3 (The Prisoner of Azkaban) have gone progressively darker in tone and more mature in theme, Deathly Hallows Part 1 surpassing The Half-Blood Prince. After a brief preamble of its own, reintroducing the main trio, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) parting ways with his aunt, uncle and cousin, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) altering her parents memories to protect them, and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) standing away from his family, reflecting, the three best friends embark on an unrelenting journey that will test their bond and friendship.
For those 146 minutes, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a journey of discovery. Not just for the main trio who have grown up before our very eyes with their dynamic once again changing but a journey to stop Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once and for all. Nobody is safe since the fatal events of The Half-Blood Prince, not even muggles, shown briefly in the ‘Daily Prophet’ as families are being killed. With Voldemort safely in power and in control of the Ministry after a brief tenure by Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), the supporters of Harry are scattered, on the run and holding onto whatever good news they come across.
Even beyond the grave Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) does what he can in the vaguest way possible to help Harry, Ron and Hermione defeat the dark lord. They’ll just have to work out the puzzling items left in Dumbledore’s will for themselves. To get there, the main trio are tested unlike they have been before. Time is short and patience is far shorter and with a horcrux making things worse, the journey becomes more difficult, straining Harry, Ron and Hermione’s loyalty with one another.
Going back to what I mention above, Deathly Hallows Part 1 only being half of a whole story, Steve Kloves still applies a three act structure to his screenplay. A screenplay filled with a melancholy atmosphere and a heightened sense of desperation; director David Yates rarely strays off this path. But when there are moments of calm between the disapparating to remote areas, Yates takes full advantage of them. For example, immediately after Ron abandons Harry and Hermione in a fit of misplaced anger, Harry and Hermione dance together to a song, O Children by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. For the first time in a long time, the two smile and share an intimate moment together. It’s not a romantic intimacy (the two are promised to others) but a ‘I’m here for you, I understand what you’re going through’ plutonic intimacy.
All of the chemistry shared between Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson is put on display in this one sincere moment. It’s a necessary scene of hope and the lyrics of the song prove that juxtaposed against Alexandre Desplat’s somber and haunting score. As the main trio, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are spectacular. Was there ever a doubt? They understand their characters well beyond the pages of J. K. Rowling’s novels, making them feel like real people evolving as they get older, even in a fantasy setting. Outside of the trio, the ensemble cast full of character actors all find comfort in an uncomfortable world.
The once arrogant Malfoy Family – Lucius (Jason Isaacs), Narcissa (Helen McCrory) and Draco (Tom Felton) have been reduced to cowards, shells of their former selves. Maybe they chose the wrong side, regret pasted across their foreheads. Now Headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), watches on in horror as his colleagues are killed for what subject they teach. Rickman doesn’t have much screentime but with the little he does have; he conveys so much with just an expression. Truly, the ensemble cast have made these characters their own.
Since the entirety of the film departs from the school setting, Kloves and Yates explore other options in placing action sequences. Films past would attribute to the 1 Quidditch match where the camera would put you on the broom as if you’re the seeker for Gryffindor. With The Deathly Hallows Part 1, action comes sparingly but when it benefits the story Kloves is simultaneously condensing down and expanding upon. The opening action sequence does its best to recapture that sensation of being on a broomstick while bringing the threat into the muggle world.
Cinematographer Eduardo Serra keeps the adrenaline high during that moment but its editor Mark Day that really nails the chase at the end, using quick cuts to heighten the frenzy while the only sound comes from spell-casting. Two excellent action sequences in a film that focuses on the somberness and a variety of emotions including the franchise familiar of loss. Throughout the series, Harry has experienced loss after loss but in The Deathly Hallows Part 1, the loss he experiences is too heavy of a burden and Radcliffe shows his maturity and range as an actor in those two moments.
Despite it feeling like a part 1 of 2, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a profoundly beautiful written, directed and acted story, one this franchise needed to continue its assertion of dominance as a franchise. The duo of Kloves and Yates are perfect for bringing the final book to life. Being a penultimate film in the Harry Potter franchise, the magic is just as pronounced as it was in Sorcerer’s Stone, but with one film left, Part 1 ends on a highly satisfying yet heart wrenchingly depressing note. I find the few moments of levity and stillness to stand out the most, alleviating the weight this final book holds on a person who has been there from the start.
Screenplay By: Steve Kloves
Directed By: David Yates
Music By: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Eduardo Serra
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis
Where to Watch: Max
Edited By: Mark Day
Release Date: November 19, 2010
Running Time: 2 Hours 26 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Based On: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling