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

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With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, director David Yates is three Potter-films deep, and his experience is showing. What I was most impressed with about his series debut, The Order of the Phoenix, was his understanding of the character nuance, a principal he applies to even stronger effect in this seventh film. Here, Yates crafts a compelling bildungsroman that makes its case for the best film of the series. Despite being half of a story, it doesn't feel narratively fractured as much as it just feels really bleak. This film feels less Potter and more post-takeover: the invasion of the Ministry of Magic and the systemic "cleansing" of non-magic bloodlines bring to mind images of the Third Reich. Whereas the first six films were detective stories, and the eight will likely be a war film, this one is a treasure hunt/fugitive film, in the style of a Dan Brown story but vastly more well-crafted.

This film has more emotional nuance than any of its predecessors -- the added down time is one of the benefits of the novel being split in two -- and a pace that lets it race when it must and pause when it should. This is the Empire Strikes Back of Potter films, and I mean that in the best possible way.