Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 11/19/09
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Warwick Davis, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch

A cold, dark, and utterly joyless film, filled to the brim with tension, danger, and doom. Author JK Rowling loves to make her characters suffer, and Harry and his friends are unapologetically beaten down at every turn. Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) forces are growing stronger every day, and he has taken over the Ministry Of Magic. Amidst the growing hysteria, the Ministry launches a hate campaign against Muggles and those with mixed bloodlines ("Mudbloods"), and starts rounding up and disposing of undesirable citizens in true Nazi fashion. Plans to get Harry to a safe house end with disastrous results, so Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are forced to strike out on their own. Alone, scared, and on the run, they try to track down clues and artifacts to help them fight against Voldemort, which puts them all in mortal danger and pushes them to their breaking points.

The film is remarkably oppressive, and John Williams' original happy music is nowhere to be found. The story is basically one long chase scene, and the action is tense and exciting. The heavy emotional weight of the film makes it difficult to enjoy, so your mind takes refuge in the visual splendor and stirring dramatic performances. Once again, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson deliver strong performances, and their emotions are tangible and sincere. Hermione gets a much larger role in this film, which really allows Emma Watson to shine. The slightest twitch of an eyebrow or quiver of a lip speaks volumes, and her strength and beauty are unwavering. Great stuff. Unfortunately, lovely Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) has the tiniest of roles and is strapped with an amazingly unflattering wardrobe. Another disappointment is the reappearance of the hated Dobby from "The Chamber Of Secrets" (2002), but he miraculously manages to redeem himself. Another minor annoyance is that Warwick Davis's name is misspelled in the credits.

While several of my friends cried foul at the cliff-hanger ending, it seemed to me like a perfect place to stop. The night is always darkest before the dawn, and things are very, very dark indeed. I'm definitely looking forward to the final installment.