Review: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1″ (2010)

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (pic: WB)

As though the previous 5 or so films weren’t indication enough, one of the primary aims of the penultimate film in the insanely successful Harry Potter: Boy Wizard franchise is clearly to let its audience know that all this witchcraft and broomstick-flying ain’t kids’ stuff anymore.

Dark, brooding, and at times far more disturbing than you might expect from a family-friendly franchise, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a relatively satisfying standalone film that is more successful in achieving its other main goal: setting the scene for the final chapter.

One of my problems with Deathly Hallows Part 1 – and its source book – is that it tries to pack in a few too many Very Important Things, which has the unintended result of making all of them seem Not Very Important.

First, we’ve got the Horcruxes – the seven (six? eight?) pieces of Voldemort‘s soul that he has hidden in various objects and scattered around England like so many former members of Take That!. Interestingly, Voldemort doesn’t seem particularly hindered by the fact that he is missing several parts of his soul – at least, it doesn’t stop him from throwing ghastly dinner parties where he feeds Hogwarts teachers to snakes and globetrotting like the Travelocity Gnome in search of various essential objects.

Voldemort: Hostess with the mostess (Ralph Feinnes)

But let’s forget about the Horcruxes – there’s something more important for our heroic trio – Harry, Hermione and Ron, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years – to find. It’s the Deathly Hallows!

Which are three OTHER, UNRELATED objects (as far as we know) that hold some other Grave Importance to the saving of the world, the drinking of Butterbeer, etc. And there are also a few vital texts, essential symbols, critical locales, key witnesses and other hyberbolically important things to remember that honestly become a bit burdensome to deal with.

Aside from this, though, there’s some fantastic stuff to be had in Deathly Hallows Part 1. The overwhelming sense of dread – while not necessarily pleasant – is pretty delicious. This Potter film looks and feels like a straight-up horror movie, with ghoulish scares (one sequence involving an ancient witch who belongs on Hoarders is particularly nasty), graphic violence and multiple upsetting deaths. All of which make me very happy.

Emma Watson

In short, this is not Chris Columbus‘s Harry Potter. If you are looking for witty ghosts, ambulatory candy and Quiddich, this installment is not for you – the bells and whistles of the earlier films are in short supply here. There’s even an entire extended sequence where our heroic trio has to go undercover as actual adults, meaning that the young actors don’t appear on screen for about 20 minutes. This is followed by an extended “Walkabout” period where they hide in various desolate, snow-swept locales while passing around a cursed locket that makes its wearer very unpleasant – it’s almost like watching a Potter film directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Rupert Grint

After all this gravitas (and one shockingly adult hallucination for Ron involving a very-naked Harry and Hermione in flagrante dilecto), the return of some of the series’ more kid-friendly features – in particular, one gratingly annoying house-elf – feels off-key. Which is unfortunate, as a major emotional moment in the story is built around said house-elf, which for me came across as more funny than touching.

Aside from all the death and moping and adolescent angst (of which there is plenty), the film does offer up a few doses of humor. An early sequence involving multiple “false Harrys” in various clothing – including women’s – was pretty hilarious and much more camp than I expected to see in a film this dark.

And seeing as how now all three young actors have developed past the stage where they have to mug to the camera for laughs (yes, even Emma Watson, who was always the holdout of the three in the acting department, let’s admit it), the humor is a bit more subtle and relaxed.

Oh, and is it now okay to point out that TOTALLY LEGAL (and rather fit) Daniel Radcliffe strips down to his wizard knickers multiple times? Nice to see that his onstage nudity in Equus wasn’t just a phase.


At any rate, I enjoyed the film. I liked the first 90 minutes far more than the last bit, which becomes needlessly complicated with the dozen or clues that Dumbledore has left behind for our heroes. Seriously – when did Dumbledore have the time to run around the countryside hiding all this shit? He’s like the Jigsaw of the wizarding world.

And, needless to say, I’m VERY interested to see if the final film addresses JK Rowling‘s post-series reveal that Dumbledore was gay, particularly as related to his past relationship with a certain dashing wizard.

Robbie Coltraine and Radcliffe

Oh, and the action scenes are INTENSE. Like, so far above and beyond anything in the series thus far that it’s impossible to compare them. An early flight from Privet Drive to the Burrow is all crashes and spells and pile-ups at breakneck speed, and a later shaky-cam foot-chase through the forest wouldn’t feel out of place in a 28 Days Later movie. Makes the Whomping Willow look like Charlie Brown‘s Christmas tree, by comparison.

And how can you not at least chuckle at a family-friendly horror movie that uses Nick Cave ‘s “O Children” for a pivotal emotional moment between its two leads? These people have sick senses of humor, yo.

Fans of the series will likely enjoy and appreciate this installment of what has really been one of the most solid genre series ever made. Casual observers will likely be confused as hell or bored silly. Either way, it’s impossible to miss the weighty urgency that pervades every frame of Deathly Hallows Part 1, reminding us that the time for games is over, and the end is near.



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is rated PG-13 for harm to owls, harm to redheads, harm to Hermiones, harm to hoarding witches, and harm to just about everything else.

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