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Following the death of Dumbledore, Harry decides that a return to Hogwarts is no longer an option. He, Ron, and Hermione drop out, sever all ties to their families and loved ones, and go on the hunt for the remaining Horcruxes, the pieces of Voldemort's soul that he split from his body in order to make himself immortal. As they bum around the country, emotions flare, and the bond between the three friends is seriously tested. They also come under constant attack from Voldemort's supporters, who are everywhere. Nowhere is safe.
Since the decision was made to split the final book in JK Rowling's series into two parts, the filmmakers didn't need to worry about cutting stuff out. Everything that was in the first half of the book is here for your viewing pleasure. The only issue with this is that there are some things that aren't explained for people who have only seen the movies (all .5 of them). For example, the mirror. Very important in the book, and it plays its role in the film, but since it wasn't set up when it first appeared in the canon, its a little confusing. Small qualm though. Everyone's read the books, so they should be on board. The plot moves at an incredibly fast clip, continually building tension and keeping a foreboding feel throughout the entire film. It's very engrossing.
The three actors that we've grown up with have grown up as well. They've consistently gotten better with each film, but they are on a whole new level with Deathly Hallows. The stakes are raised in the story, so they all raised their game as well. Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry to perfection, doing away with the last dregs of the whiney bitch he had turned him into in the last few films. He can actually cry convincingly. REJOICE!! Rupert Grint also fares much better than usual as Ron. This might have something to do with the fact that the writer actually decided to make Ron like he was in the book instead of the buffoon he's become in the movies, but Grint really took it to a new level here. Emma Watson is still the strongest as Hermione. She was always very good, and played the role better than could have been hoped for, but, like her two counter parts, she is playing at a new level.
The supporting roles that we've come to love are pushed far into the sidelines with this one, as the plot of the first half Rowling's book focused only on the trio. Alan Rickman has one scene as Snape then disappears for the rest of the thing. Same with Bonnie Wright's Ginny, David Thewlis' Lupin, Robbie Coltraine's Hagrid, and Clemence Posey's Fleur.
Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Issacs, and Tom Felton show up a bit more as the Death Eaters that dog Harry and Co, but Ralph Fiennes is the one who gets the most screen time outside of the main three. As Voldemort, he's done away with some the bravado and has really worked at making the Dark Lord a truly evil villain! It's a much job than we last saw, perfectly fitting with the darker tone of this film.
Performances in Harry Potter films have always been a conundrum. The veteran British actors they get to support the main three are always fantastic, but the kids have tended to leave something to be desired. With Deathly Hallows, the tables have been turned. The kids are more than capable of holding their own with their elders. It's quite nice to see, actually. Don't fret too hard about everyone else being pushed to the side for Part 1. They will all get their chance to shine in Part 2.
Director David Yates completely redeemed himself for Order of the Phoenix with Half-Blood Prince, and he does himself one better with Deathly Hallows: Part 1. This is easily the second best of the series, coming so close to unseating Prisoner of Azkaban as the absolute creme de la creme. This is the darkest Harry Potter film, by far! With Voldemort finally completing his ascension to power, everything is different. Everyone is in danger! Death Eaters streak across the sky, looking for the trio. The threat of attack by "snatchers" is always prevalent. Dementors are hiding in the Ministry of Magic waiting to pounce. Killing curses fly left and right. Yates does a fantastic job upping the ante with this film. This is no longer a story for kids. He even includes a sex scene, of sorts, but it's nothing worth writing home about. It's actually a smart idea on his part. You'll see.
As the trailer alludes to, the action in Deathly Hallows has been ramped up significantly. There are multiple action-packed set pieces throughout the entire two and half hour run time, and all are handled very well. One thing that I really give Yates credit for is his showing of the effect the wizard war has on the Muggle world. He gave us a small taste when he showed a group of Death Eaters smashing London's Millennium Bridge, and goes even farther here. The first big action scene involves a crazed chase through the streets of London, and the cost of Muggle life is very clear. Cars are thrown of the road. Buildings are damaged. In the end, an entire power plant is destroyed by the conflict, killing all the lights for miles around. It brings a lot of real world gravitas to this fantasy epic.
So, I'm raving about this film. So, why am I disappointed with it? Well, the ending, obviously. Not that I had a problem with the ending; it's a good place to cut it. No. I had a problem with the fact that it ended at all. I was fully engrossed, and wanted to see more and more and more. But, I can't. I have to wait for July. RAGE!!! This is only half the story, and, honestly, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 feels more like a set-up for Part 2 than anything.
But, don't let that dissuade you. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a fantastic movie. Exciting, riveting, with good acting and a aesthetic touch unlike anything out there, this is the movie to steal your money this holiday season. It's only half the story, but, I gotta say. If Part 2 can adequately follow up with Part 1 has done, Oscar 2012 better watch out, cuz Harry Potter and friends will no doubt clean that place out!
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