Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 ★★★½

The beginning of the end of the Harry Potter movie franchise, this seventh and second-to-last part of the series primarily sets things up and builds atmosphere for the big finale. Regarded as a standalone movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" falls short of providing a consistently engaging story and a fully satisfying experience, largely as a result of the relatively stagnant narrative, which includes a fair amount of exposition and meandering stretches. That being said, the film is still a solid cinematic chapter in the Harry Potter saga.

Occasional humorous moments briefly dispel the pervasive darkness in a way that thankfully doesn’t feel forced. The wonderful animated sequence that explains what the Deathly Hallows are is a praiseworthily original stylistic choice that makes for one of the most memorable things in the film. The scenes featuring Nagini, Voldemort’s pet snake of sorts, are appropriately suspenseful and capable of eliciting a physical response from the viewer (i.e., making you jump in your seat).

David Yates seems to have an excellent rapport with his actors, which allows him to get strong performances from them, and his unobtrusive yet effective direction is commendable. The screenplay, written by Steve Kloves, stays very faithful—perhaps too faithful—to the source material, J.K. Rowling’s novel.

Eduardo Serra’s gritty, almost documentary-like cinematography anchors the events of the movie firmly in a magical part of the real world rather than in a completely separate fantasy world. Naturally, it helps that he has some picturesque locations and sets to work with, such as hillsides, forests, and an abandoned trailer park. The set design, from Bathilda Bagshot’s squalid home to the interior of the Ministry for Magic, is first-rate. I’m not entirely sold on Alexandre Desplat’s score, but it features a number of quite good pieces and doesn’t draw attention to itself.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have fully matured in their roles (Harry, Hermione, and Ron, respectively), and the three actors handle their emotional scenes well; a necessity in what is essentially a character-driven film. Ralph Fiennes’s fine acting gives the viewer a glimpse of Voldemort’s complex nature, showing Harry’s archenemy to be more than a standard two-dimensional villain. As Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter is wonderfully villainous. Imelda Staunton has little to do in this installment, but she is perfectly cast in the role of Dolores Umbridge, a character whose malice is more wicked and more insidious than that of Voldemort himself. Last but not least, Bill Nighy finally appears in a Harry Potter movie; I wouldn’t have minded to see a bit more of his Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour.