Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

UK release date: 15th July 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 130 mins
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Genre: Drama
UK distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA/UK

I have tried not to include too many but this review does contain spoilers!

It’s been ten years and $6,413,576,303 in the making, the culmination of millions of fans hopes, dreams and anticipations have finally reached the point of realisation.  When J.K. Rowling penned the first installation nobody could have known what was to come and just how it would have captured the imagination of all ages.  Harry Potter’s journey into adulthood and face to face with the Dark Lord has finally reached the screens.  It was November of last year when we last saw Harry and Co, not through choice mind but a studio film coming in at 276 minutes is less likely to prove as alluring as two halves.  With Dobbie deceased and Voldemolt in possession of the Elder wand the days are looking truly numbered for our penny glassed hero.

The search for the remaining three Horcruxes heats up as Harry (Radcliffe), Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) push towards making the Dark Lord vulnerable and in doing so free the world from his would-be rule.

There’s no denying that over the years the argument that Harry Potter is for children has been undermined before being refuted completely.  Yes the Chris Columbus chocolate box presentations were universally friendly and non threatening but hugely necessary in order to create a juxtaposition against the world that we (as an audience) and the Order (as characters) find themselves inhabiting.  Alfonso Curaron and Mike Newell both provided sufficient change of direction slipping dark, adult elements into the films but it was with the arrival of David Yates (debuting with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) that the franchise found the helmer who would bring it home.  Yates’ previous offerings including episodes of ITV’s The Bill and a Lorraine Kelly workout video so it was understandable that there was a degree of scepticism as to his appointment.  Clearly he was more than a fan, he was a man with a vision.  It’s high praise indeed to say that the only real issue with his previous outings as director is the inclusion of an Ordinary Boys song amongst the soundtrack.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I took Harry’s quest outside of the protective walls of Hogwarts for the first time and placed him in a world that was both familiar and wonderfully post apocalyptic.  The sequences camped out in the mountains and moors provided the audience with a feel of isolation and really locked in that Omega Man feeling that the character must have been fighting as he appeared outnumbered, overpowered and ill equipped to ever stand a chance of winning.

The Deathly Hallows Part II brings the gang back to the familiar setting of the school but before that there are several well designed and executed moments that need to be addressed.  The heist of Gringotts is without doubt the riskiest venture the trio has ever had to attempt in their pursuit of Horcruxes and one that’s a true test of their dedication to see Voldemort (Fiennes) defeated.  Visually the scene plays a lot more humorous than it reads, Bonham Carter (Bellatrix) playing Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix is a wonderful chance for her to showcase her physical acting and one that is delivered to the level of perfection that you would expect from Helena.  Her ability to appear awkward and uncomfortable within her own skin yet at the same time appear physically familiar as Watson’s character is mesmerising yet not overplayed.  There are laughs at the polite Hermione as Bellatrix but not to the detriment of the rationale behind this excursion and it’s to her credit that Bonham Carters knows how much of the scene is hers to take and what’s off limits to stealing.  The journey to the vault and the escape are both handled extremely well under Yates’ direction, though the more thrilling is obviously the Dragon assisted fast route out of the bank.  Where Twilight : Eclipse failed with the motion capture of the computer generated animals Potter succeeds as the movement of the incarcerated Dragon and the re-discovery of how to fly all looks and feels nature.  Cinematic audiences are an odd bunch, none of us have ever seen a Dragon (for good reason) but mess up with the movement of the beast and we’ll all know it’s wrong.  On this occasion they can categorically state that they have nailed it.  Similarly the gangs encounter with Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his crew of wannabe Death Eaters showcases the fluidity of camera work, cinematography, physicality of performers and again the CGI prowess of the team that the fire looks and feel real.  On foot or with broom the sequence is a real edge of the seat ride that is, again, not without it’s humour.  It’s obvious that the decade long relationship built up between all performers involved has allowed them to hone their delivery as they not only understand their character but also understand the understanding of the others’ characters and how it all knits together is just right.

The score is, typically, rich with the usual trappings of “magical” notes that have shaped the genre for years not, accompanied with the obligatory action score that never ceases to thrill and captivate audiences.  In addition to this there’s the wonderful touch of nostalgia that is a simple reworking of some of the origins scores than have long since faded away during the evolution of the Potter franchise.  It’s little touches like this that creates a true feeling of finality and yet inclusion, the inclusion of an audience that has grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and is greatly appreciated.

The acting has evolved with the narrative and the performers.  In the early years Watson’s acting was a little suspect however years of working with different directors and high calibre British actors has clearly allowed her to watch, learn and hone and in Deathly Hallows Part II Watson is a really strong performer which is a shame as she doesn’t have as much to do as in previous films.  Where she was the brains of the operation in the past the operation is pretty clear now and with Ron out smarting her on a couple of occasions it leaves Hermione with little to do.  The book showcases her conflict with the planned deception to keep the sword of Gryffindor but with the importance of pushing the narrative forward towards the Battle of Hogwarts Watson’s work is largely exposition which she delivers extremely well.  Bonham Carter, as mentioned, is excellent though like Hermione to Harry, Bellatrix takes a backseat in Voldemort’s story and we only really have the wonderful heist sequence to enjoy the brilliance of Carter.  All of the supporting cast perform well enough with two excellent yet small performances from Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom).  Issacs has always been a strong “baddie” in the Potter world but as seen in Deathly Hallows Part I he doesn’t have as strong a stomach as he may have thought.  The make up, facial growth and generally Issacs’ expressive face  delivers all the regret, heart ache and fear of a man out of his depth in a way that cinema simply doesn’t have the time to delve into.  Likewise Lewis’ transformation from awkward and slightly useless schoolboy to the John Connor of Hogwarts is wonderful, he has kept his sense of humour but has added the fearlessness that his parents clearly had all those years ago and his ferocity of his convictions to bring down the Dark Lord helps to bring to the front the pain of his loss. 

With regards to performances this film belongs to three actors in unequal measures.  The first, and smallest piece, is Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) who over the past ten years has had the thankless task of being the ever present but never highlighted character who is perpetually dealt the suspicions of the audience.  His scene in the boat house with Voldemort is so beautifully paced, tense and understated the final moments of the scene is enough to move the audience to the deepest emotions and is all thanks to Rickman.  This is a veteran actor who has been waiting in the wings for his moment and when time comes he delivers a performance that finally deserves his screen presence.  Likewise his conversations with Dumbledore and memories from the day in which Harry’s parents have been killed shows the motives of Snape’s character and the tenderness of Rickman’s performance.  Radcliffe’s performance is one that’s physically dominant throughout.  Over the years he has had others to turn to, others who have shielded him.  Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore, Brendan Gleeson’s Mad-Eye Moody have all stood up and fall for Harry.  This is now Harry’s moment and in Radcliffe they have a young man who carries a strong physical presence and a command of the screen that will serve him well for the future.  All too often his dialogue is for exposition purposes, and understandably so, but there are several moments that allow him to show the humanity of the character.  Harry’s approach to the forbidden forest presents Radcliffe with the opportunity to confront moments of personal vulnerability and regret and genuinely brings a tear to the eye.  Without doubt the film belongs to Ralph Fiennes, like Rickman, he has had to play a rather two dimensional character but this is his film, his moment to elaborate on a character that’s many things to many people, all of them complex.  Like Rickman, Fiennes performance in the boat house is excellent.  The ruthless matter of factness about his actions echoes the chillness of Fiennes’ Francis Dolarhyde (Red Dragon), this is not entirely surprising as to obtain the title Dark Lord you’d need to be a little ruthless.  What is surprising and wonderfully refreshing to see in Voldemort is his charm.  His ability to charm information out of characters is well documented but rarely observed by the cinematic audience.  At Hogwarts with the victory at hand he delivers a lighter, friendlier, carefree Voldemort that brings laughter to the audience and fellow performers alike.  It’s clear that Voldemort has a relaxed charm about him that he uses to lure people into his way of thinking and ultimately his service and it’s never so apparent than with his beckoning of Draco and the wonderfully forced hug.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is less refreshing than the franchises first outing post Columbus but this is not the time to be reinventing your film.  It’s been seven films in the making and audiences, fans and wannabe wizards alike have been waiting and wanting the visual presentation of their beloved book.  If you’re looking for a Quidditch match then you are in the wrong place, this is a climax that has been building for ten years and though there are some issues (wonderful moments from the book being cut and some shots clearly added for the purpose of 3D) it is a strong final offering and a fitting end to the franchise that has reintroduced children to reading.  Speaking of which, here is Alan Rickman’s thoughtful letter to J.K. Rowling.


Larry Taylor said...

It is odd the way Snape is always there, but never highlighted. I do love Rickman's performance though. It's too bad he couldn't get a supporting actor nomination for the whole of the series.

Nice review!

John Baxter said...

Thanks, yeah there are so many utility performs in franchises like Harry Potter that go unacknowledged and overlooked. Rickman's job is a real thankless one and his characters revelation is not the main interest in the narrative so quickly discarded to focus on the narrative. He's excellent

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