Sunday, July 17, 2011


Ten years ago, if you had asked me about the Harry Potter film series, I would have honestly said that, given the HUGE popularity of the books by J.K. Rowling, it was an easy money-grabber. Fast forward to July 16, 2011 at 1:36 a.m., and I can honestly say that it became SO much more than that. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is a seminal film. This sort of thing only comes along once in a generation, and I am proud to say that I got to see this through.

In the age of Twilight, Deathly Hallows Part 2 reminds us of what is truly important: honor, duty, friendship, sacrifice, and love (no, I mean it--REAL LOVE, Twi-hards!). I left the movie theater on Friday night with the same feeling I had on December 25, 2003 when I went to see Return of the King with my cousin: a feeling of pure, unadulterated wonder (not to mention the feeling of "too many endings" by the time the words 19 Years Later faded in, a welcome bit of moviegoing deja vu). It would honestly not surprise me in the slightest if the Academy did for Potter what it did for Return of the King and honor it for what it is. It's not just a good summer fantasy film, it's a fantastic fantasy film, an exploration of the true conflict between good and evil, ripped straight from the pages of its origin, and told in such a way that only the shallowest person could not be impacted by it. It is certainly the best film I've seen all year, and it was one hell of a film to end the Summer Movie Season. Not even The First Avenger: Captain America (yes, THAT should be its title) will be able to slow this monster down.

First of all, credit and thanks are due to Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint for putting their childhoods on hold to see this series through to the bitter end. The reason their onscreen performances--not just individually but together--are so powerful is because they don't just play three best friends in the movies, they are best friends in real life. They have the kind of friendship that should have never worked: cast in these iconic roles at the ages of 10 and 11, people easily expected them to become consumed by the Hollywood machine and begin bickering and fighting amongst themselves to the joy of every tabloid newspaper and magazine on the planet. But no, these three actors bonded and grew up together and formed something much more unique, much more powerful than any sort of chemistry veteran actors could hope to achieve in any single film in their entire careers. I would like to pause this review for a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to this truly inspiring trio of people. Thank you so much for allowing us to watch you grow up in these films, both as actors and as people. Good luck to all three of you no matter what you choose to pursue in the future.

Nevertheless, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are not the be-all end-all of this film. Or indeed this filmic saga. The supporting cast of (to name a few) Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman (who deserves a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) Ralph Fiennes, David Thewlis, the brothers Phelps (who are now firmly embedded in my mind as Fred and George Weasley every time I read the books), Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, and Robbie Coltrane, served to mentor the young actors just as their characters did for the students of Hogwarts (with the exception of Fiennes, obviously). To retain such a stellar cast for ten years and eight films is more than just "sheer, dumb luck" as Professor McGonagall would say, it is just as monumental an achievement as the films themselves. From that opening shot of Alan Rickman as headmaster of Hogwarts to Julie Walters uttering the line many fans had been waiting to hear with bated breath, "Not my daughter, you bitch!", every single performance in this film was a sheer joy to witness.

Special consideration here needs to be given to Mr. Rickman, who does so much with such little screentime, and even fewer lines than he's had in any previous Potter film. His entire performance is conveyed through his eyes, and though they are black and cold, from somewhere deep within comes a sadness and anguish that brought tears to my eyes. Alan Rickman truly gives one of the greatest supporting performances of recent memory. Yes, even up there with Heath Ledger's Academy Award-winning turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Finally, the filmmakers. These people promised to deliver a grand, epic finale and they did. And not just for fans of the films, but fans of the books will find nearly every one of their favorite moments from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ripped right from the page in this film. From the opening scene with Harry and crew making that deal with Griphook to the Epilogue at the end of the film, the filmmakers didn't try to reinvent the Wizarding wheel and took Rowling's words and gave them brilliant cinematic form. While for some David Yates may not have been the first choice for a film of this magnitude, or indeed even any of the Potter films in this franchise, he has proven himself to be a masterful director, and my hat goes off to him.

What makes this film so great is that Part 2 fits so perfectly well with Part 1, while being as unlike Part 1 as you can get in terms of tone and pace. If you were to splice these films together (which I'm sure Warner Bros. has already thought of doing for the eventual Ultimate Collector's Edition Harry Potter Blu-Ray set--which you can bet your ass I'll be getting!!), Part 1 becomes the slow, grinding upward slope of the rollercoaster that is Part 2. And what a rollercoaster it is. Once the trio (and Griphook) leave Shell Cottage, it's all action and none of it stops for one second to let you breathe, which is perfect storytelling and a great way for the audience to really tap into what the characters are being put through. How the filmmakers managed to put so much into this film and keep it all coherent is something I'll be toiling over for a long time (something tells me Yates took a few pages from Christopher Nolan's book of directing--but I digress) but the film moves along with spectacular pacing that allows you to keep track of what's going on, who's doing what, and how it all comes together.

I have very little to complain about with this film, and the things I do have to complain about are mostly nitpicky things that had very little impact on the film as a whole. Certain cuts, specific takes, a few plot points that were left out (why didn't Harry repair his wand first?!?!), but on the whole, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is a film to remember for, and share with, generations to come. Thank you J.K. Rowling. Thank you Harry. And long live the Boy Who Lived.

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