Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Year: 2011
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Play time: 
Director: David Yates
Screenwriters: Steve Klove
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a towering achievement, a staggering, out-of-nowhere pop filmmaking triumph on par with The Dark Knight, The Return of the King and Spider-Man. That it’s the last installment of a monumental eight-part series is in some ways a shame, because while it provides a splendid, satisfying conclusion to the Harry Potter saga, as a self-contained film it could have stood among the all-time great Hollywood entertainments. Even as part of a larger, less consistent whole, it still might. It really is that good: lean, brutal, dizzying, beautiful.

I was not enthusiastic about Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (directed, like each of the last four films in the franchise, by David Yates); despite some lovely moments, it got mired in tedious exposition and lots and lots of plot, which was never J.K. Rowling’s strong suit.  Seconds into the final film, which picks up precisely where its predecessor left off, I was rapt. It opens with a few mundane scenes — at a remote cabin by the seashore, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) speaks with wand master Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt) and a regal goblin (Warwick Davis) who may be able to sneak Harry, Ron and Hermione into the enchanted Gringotts bank vault to retrieve another piece of Lord Voldemort’s soul —  but something about them is different. There is a weight to the conversations; a definiteness of purpose. Harry is no longer a child being put through his paces by adults who know better. He can’t stop what’s coming — a battle for the lives of everyone he knows and loves — and what’s coming is now well and truly on his shoulders.

These are dialogue-heavy scenes, meant to deliver exposition, but there’s more to them: a sense of dread responsibility; of stakes. Ollivander has screwed up and he knows it — because of him, Voldemort has found the powerful Elder Wand — and Harry doesn’t let him off the hook. “He has found it, sir,” Harry says gently when Ollivander frets about what would happen if he did; “we’ll let you rest.”  It’s an extraordinary line of dialogue, conveying so much about what this character has become after seven years and eight screen adventures. And it’s a punch in the gut: actions in this universe have consequences, and shit just got real.

Then the movie soars. The remainder of its 130 minutes (which feel more like 80) consist of what I would normally characterize as “one set piece after another,” as Harry, Ron and Hermione break into the Gringotts vault and then proceed to Hogwarts to defend it from a vicious siege by Voldemort and his varied minions. But Yates’ work is so seamless, so effortlessly propulsive, that the term “set piece” seems inapt. He fills the smallest of throwaway moments with an eerie, menacing beauty; the simple act of migrating from one part of the Hogwarts castle to another becomes a symphony of swirling movement. And the story’s big emotional beats take on a power so immense that I was repeatedly shellshocked. The pensieve flashback involving Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) — which in some ways contains the heart of the series — is a masterpiece of editing, pacing, and narrative economy. The way Yates films Harry’s conscious, heartbreaking sacrifice at the film’s climax is swift, unsentimental, and unforgettable. And what he does with the “19 years later” epilogue left me agape and in tears. This is one of the most assured big-budget Hollywood productions I have ever seen.

Much has been written about the wonder of seeing the film’s young cast grow up on screen, and I will just add that the experiment resulted in some fascinating artifacts. Daniel Radcliffe, for example, hardly resembles the lead actor in a blockbuster franchise — he’s 5′ 5″ and kind of a spaz, with the tentative gait and jerky movement of an insecure teenager. Which of course is perfect, a happy accident that’s emblematic of everything that went right with this gargantuan undertaking. Radcliffe owns this movie, in large part because his Harry is a human being, as frightened and uncertain as he is determined and good.

Some (including yours truly) have complained that the Harry Potter series has at times been too beholden to the source material, particularly Rowling’s spotty narrative. It’s ironic, then, that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 works so brilliantly because of the books’ massive popularity. Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who wrote all of the adaptations save one) don’t feel the need to explain much; they just plow forward. The result is a breathtaking end to a saga that has captured the world’s imagination, and a rebuke to mechanical, factory-assembled blockbusters that have littered the summer of 2011. No other film this year has felt so vibrant and alive.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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