In full honestly it would be difficult to admit that all the Harry Potter movies one through six were not particularly good movies. But they weren’t; that is the truth. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is by far the best Harry Potter movie; it is also the first in the franchise that you could legitimately call a good movie; it is also just half of a movie.
Part of the reason why the film stands above the rest likely has to the decision to split it into two movies, and the first part alone runs 2:26. For the first time a Harry Potter film doesn’t seem rushed. It actually takes its time to reveal and develop the characters in the world and not just the main three; they’ve dedicated six movies to them already. No, I mean the actual people who live in this world besides them that up until now have just been quirky caricatures drawn to inhabit the world. But even with the extra time, HP7 will be somewhat hard to understand to anyone who hasn’t read the books (just like the rest of the films). But a quick role call recall of the main characters at the beginning makes it sufficient for those who are familiar with the movies as a minimum. But for the sake of this review, I am assuming you read the books and are familiar with the material.
The other part of the movie's success lies mostly on David Yates. Since the fifth movie, you could tell Yates was trying to make the Harry Potter films a little more personal; to make them rely on mood and character more than wonder and action created through special effects. This is the first Harry Potter film with a scene that was not only not in the book, it was not even mentioned in the book. It is a wonderful little scene that draws a lot of depth to the relationship between Harry and Hermione. In the books it is mentioned, inside Harry’s head, that he loves Hermione as a sister; this is something that is really hard to show on film, or in real life for that matter. People assume things; Ron assumed things. The fact that Yates took the time to put in a twenty second scene that showed this even when one assumes the audience has read the books or already knows this is the case, shows he cares for these characters beyond them just being part of the franchise. And in this installment Yates’ own personal style also crystallizes. Previously, in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, it seemed Yates was simply transcribing the books to film afraid of adding his personality to the films; this time, you know this film is being directed by an auteur, one that is an expert on English litterateur. Yates finds a nice balance between the somber, the harrowing, the whimsy, and the comedic that very, very few artists could achieve. Perhaps the best example of this is the scene where the three heroes take the polyjuice potion to disguise themselves as bureaucrats of the ministry of magic to infiltrate said ministry. If you read the books you know that by this time Voldemort and his goons have staged a coup and taken over the British wizarding world and established a Nazi-esque regime where muggles, muggle-borns and the non-human magic creatures are persecuted. Yates has obviously heard of the Nazis, but he has also read Orwell’s 1984, seen Gilliam’s Brazil and has experience Pink Floyd’s The Wall (both the music and the movie). No, Yates doesn’t borrow from the past ala Tarantino (that would be really unfitting for this saga) but instead he adds another piece of work to this tradition of surreal British despo-bureaucracies. And unlike, Gilliam in Brazil, Yates manages to balance and blend thrill, fright, and humor quite well in this scene; you know it takes a great director for a scene that has Dolores Umbridge in her pink sweater acting as a judge, interrogating a muggle-born over the “theft of magic” while the Dementors circle above ready to perform the execution to work. In most cases you can have a frightful scene with soul sucking ghosts and a helpless woman or a farcical scene with a judge in a pink sweater and bonnet. But to make those two works in tandem you need a special touch.
As for the actors, well we must all really be thankful that Warner Brothers lucked out when the cast Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson ten years ago. If anything, the Harry Potter franchise has proven that Britain still has the best acting schools around. Who could have foreseen these three would actually grow to become a rather talented trio? Well, when they have been hanging around: Richard Harris, Emma Thompson, Helen Boham Carter, Ralph Finnes, Alan Rickman (and the list goes on and on), it is not hard for some talent to get passed on. It is foreseeable that all the young actors involved in the series will become the next generation of great British actors.
In technical issues, like every Harry Potter film before it, this film gives the best of what there is up to date. It is safe to say the effects and the visual will not disappoint. However, since this is the first film taking place outside Hogwarts it seems Yates and his cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, really wanted it to be made it clear that the English landscape is beautiful. There are a few shots and a few locations which would be much more fitting and appropriate for the Lord of the Rings franchise than for Harry Potter. But they are still beautiful. The other new thing in this installment is a gorgeous animated sequence about the tale of the three brothers and the Hallows. Probably the best looking and most fitting animated sequence in a live action movie I’ve seen so far. This was a very elegant and unexpected touch.
Yet as good as this movie was I couldn’t bring myself to give it five stars because it is incomplete. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review this movie is half a movie. It is not an installment of its own with a gimmicky cliffhanger (although the obligatory cliffhanger scene is there); it is the first and half of the second acts of a movie. Part 2 will likely suffer from the same problem. And it is almost guarantee that at one point they will release the whole 5 hours as a single road show version with an intermission. This is how this movie should be watched; it is agonizing that it has to be a six month long intermission for now.