Review: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' begins the grand wrap-up for the series in style
This is a tricky one to review, because I am of split mind on the way it works as a movie.
The title should be the tip-off right away that this is not meant to stand on its own. Each of the previous films in the series has been a stand-alone, with nary a number in sight. True, if you buy the giant special collector's edition Blu-ray editions of the films that are being released by Warner Bros., there are big numbers on the side of each one, but that's not part of the title. Never has been. Now, for the last two films, we get "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." It's a choice based purely on function, inelegant, and the one genuine criticism that anyone could level at the movie opening in theaters everywhere on Friday is that its ending is based purely on function, although elegant in its way.
If my biggest complaint about a film is that I would have happily sat through the next two-and-a-half hours of story immediately, I'd say that's a good complaint, one that director David Yates should take as high praise. There is little doubt that this series belongs to Yates at this point. I've enjoyed the round robin of directors as the series progressed, and rewatching the films in the last few weeks, I am struck anew by just how lucky they got. Chris Columbus set the tone and found the kids, and he had to do all the heavy lifting in setting up a visual palette for Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter, and in his two films, I think he defined things so well that when Alfonso Cuaron came on for "Azkaban," he was able to play. The only reason Cuaron's film is able to experiment is because Columbus had already so clearly established everything, so experimenting with those boundaries felt thrilling. Mike Newell, who almost broke his film into two parts a la "Deathly Hallows," had perhaps the biggest job in any of the individual films, and his movie kicked off the narrative arc that really brings the second half of the series together. Until "Goblet," the films are exciting, but the stakes aren't as brutal as they could be. "Goblet" features the first key death in the war that has been building in each film since then, and "Deathly Hallows" brings that all from a simmer to a boil.