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Review: Harry Potter film “Deathly Hallows” unleashes the bleakness in a ripping thriller

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A pall hangs over the anxious world that pits Harry Potter and his allies against their cold, familiar foes in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” the latest film about author J. K. Rowling’s celebrated boy wizard.

The seventh film in the series, based on Rowling’s seventh and final book, is the bleakest and most frightening yet.

A warning: Viewers unfamiliar with the story about the young wizard’s battles with the unspeakably evil Lord Voldemort may have trouble following the script (or this review, for that matter). Like the “Star Wars” movies, which chronicle similar battles between dark and light, this series has its own eccentric vocabulary, unique rules and bizarre characters.

But of course, there are millions upon millions of Potter fans out there, so a little inside baseball seems perfectly in order.

By any measure, “Deathly Hallows” is a ripping thriller. Harry Potter fans will recognize that it picks up where “The Half-Blood Prince” left off, with Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in tatters and the wall between the wizarding and Muggle (nonmagical) worlds shattered.

Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) relishes his control of the Ministry of Magic, cowing scores of noxious minions and terrifying Muggles unlucky enough to catch his eye.

Voldemort is this close to absolute, immortal power, lacking only the remaining horcruxes — the hidden, malignant containers of his fragmented soul. (None of the horcruxes seem to contain the rest of Voldemort’s aborted nose, a cosmetic oversight on the Dark Lord’s part.)

The “Deathly Hallows” in the title describes three sacred objects equally crucial to defeating Voldemort — the Resurrection Stone, the indomitable Elder Wand, and the Invisibility Cloak. The story of the Deathly Hallows is told with an eerie shadow-puppet show, with special-effects director Tim Burton’s signature blend of alarm and affection.

The real world is as shaken as that story’s baleful realm. Long-beloved characters die at a rate so dizzying that there’s hardly time to mourn (much less keep a tally).

Harry Potter (Daniel Rad cliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) separate themselves to spare friends and family from the Death Eaters and other Voldemort lackeys stalking them. The trio’s quest: to find the horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows before Voldemort does.

Eluding their pursuers requires disapparating to remote places unfrequented by Death Eaters. The scenes in those gorgeous and sometimes otherworldly areas offer some of the movie’s surprising wit. One of those moments is early on, during a wedding scene that gives new meaning to the toast “bottoms up.”

Much of the humor is related to Hermione’s funky drawstring bag. It contains an endless assortment of necessities, including a spacious tent, a lantern, extra clothing and medical supplies. (Kind of like a mother’s purse but without the wrinkled receipts, expired coupons and wads of Kleenex.)

To recover the first horcrux, Salazar Slytherin’s locket, the friends must infiltrate the Ministry of Magic by impersonating three adult Ministry employees. This mission amusingly involves traveling via toilets, in an understated, brilliant scene of workers lining up to take their turn at the stall.

Snatching the locket means taking it literally from under the nose of the particularly nasty Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). In her pink suit and helmet hair, she is one of the movie’s most chilling villains, like a malevolent blend of candy-sweet on the outside, bursting with venom inside.

The venality of the dark wizards and witches seems magnified in “Deathly Hallows.” Among the most unnerving: Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). She’s more deranged than ever, an electric tangle of wild hair and surging malice.

Fiennes’ Lord Voldemort is oddly less terrifying than some of his minions. Maybe it’s the weirdly abbreviated nose. Maybe it’s because from behind, he bears an inadvertently comical resemblance to Dr. Evil in the “Austin Powers” movies.

Still, there’s enough of an underlying chill to keep “Deathly Hallows” on edge. The sense of lurking menace infects everyone, even the good guys. Wearing the horcrux locket (to safeguard it) poisons the wearer’s mind, splintering things among Harry, Hermione and Ron at a point where they most need unity.

And by the time Voldemort seizes one of the Deathly Hallows in a particularly ghastly retrieval, everything seems to hang in the balance — especially when the Dark Lord triumphantly splits the sky in the theatrical cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until the final installment arrives next summer.


PG-13, for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. 2 hours, 26 minutes. Directed by David Yates. Screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Robert Grint, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter. Now open at area theaters.

-Claire Martin

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  • comment avatar Alan E November 27, 2010

    Outstanding review. Finally a critic who actually understands and has a passion for the story.

  • comment avatar Andrea November 27, 2010

    The worst part if you’ve read the book is just sitting there waiting for scary things to happen. My sainted boyfriend took me and had to suffer endless fingernails to his hand in anticipation of major events.