Directed by David Yates
Starring Alan Rickman, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Gint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Jim Broadbent, Warwicke Davis, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Fred and Oliver Phelps
Written by Steve Kloves
Woe the poor magician, Severus Snape. Forced to make all the hardest choices, and benefit not at all, from any of them. From the first moment of the series, you see him never with a smile on his countenance. The great love of his life, Lily, dead at the hands of the most powerful member of his house of magical studies, Slytherin. Already lost her years earlier when she decided to marry his nemesis, the arrogant, talented and occasionally brilliant James Potter. The result of their union, and the only survivor from Voldemort’s attack of rage, is Harry, their son. He looks like his father, with the eyes of his mother. The torment he must have felt from the moment he realized that he was to pretend to be wrapped up in the evil undercurrent that surrounded the search for and eventual rebirth of Voldemort. At the same time working to educate and prepare the symbol of his love and contempt, Harry, for the upcoming battle that is to pass between “the boy who lived” and the one who would have him destroyed.
Now, having been assigned the duty of killing Albus Dumbledore, he follows his orders, in complete misery, and then is given what appears to be a reward. He is made headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is an empty shell of an empty shell. He is in danger from those who oppose Voldemart, and, he understands, quite real danger from Voldemort himself. The only thing that can save Harry is the only thing that can redeem his empty soul. That thing is a vial of his tears: the tears of a life of seeming pride in utter defeat of his wishes and desires.
Watching Alan Rickman, first in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, then from Deathly Hallows, Part 1, completes the most nuanced performance of a marvelous career in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. His scenes in both halves of Deathly Hallows, are quite comparatively brief, when you compare them to what you see in the book and, even, in the other movies. Rickman and Yates make the most of every second, however. His Hogwarts is a melancholy place: somber, sorrowful and dim. His face shows no happiness, not one sign of being content. If anyone could look at him with anything other than contempt or fear, they might know this. The viewer certainly can tell, long before it was discovered that he arranged to have a fake Gryffindor Sword placed in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringot’s. This movie is wise, though, to show that it does not escape Harry’s notice.
Then again, there is not much that escapes the notice of David Yates, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling and the rest of the makers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Whereas other films in their combined watch have, at times, been stiflingly brief and ultimately confusing for the average viewer, the films have never failed to be anything less than invigorating and suspenseful. Steadily fading to the background the goofiness of the earlier films, the characters have grown up right before our eyes to people making mature, if sometimes rash, life or death choices.
The character benefitting most from the Yates/Kloves/Rowling efforts has been Ron. Moving him away from being a half-assed recreation of Shaggy, he develops his own attitude, and, by mid-point in this movie, leads a charge against Malfoy and his cronies reminiscent of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s insane charge on the Stormtroopers in the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The result of this scene has a similar effect on the viewer that the original. No loss of respect for the foolish bravery, and no surprise when that foolishness is confronted by the reality of superior forces.
Another character that benefits from the filmmaker’s touch is Neville Longbottom. The fluffy, scared, beautiful little boy who lost his Remembrall after he broke his wrist in the first film, to the reserved boy who was only confident when it came to Herbology, to a young man in love with Luna “Looney” Lovegood, finding his confidence by just being tired of bad things happening to good people. His evolution is shocking as it is rewarding.
Hermoine gets a favor in the movie by ignoring some of the repetitiveness her character was burdened with in the book. Much of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows consists of Hermoine continually reminding / nagging Harry that he needs to block out his mind from connecting to Voldemort’s. In spite of the fact that it served as an effective and easy plot device to tell the heroes what was happening behind the wall, her protests must have filled some 100 pages of the novel’s length. We hear this hodgepodge just once in the entire film. Instead, she spends much of her time being the one who realizes what must be done, even if she is not the first person in the room to do so. She’s even there when Ron figures it out for once.
Harry. what to say about Harry? His growth is our growth. His understanding (or lack therof) is ours, for the most part. He faces every challenge with the weight of the world on his back. We see now why he had never been coddled. If he had been used to easy choices, that now weathered, weary face would have been much softer, but destroyed much earlier on. Starting with him, they could not have picked better people to fill the roles for this series, from the first movie on. Harry Potter is more part of the pop psyche than is Luke Skywalker, by now. Maybe not more than Frodo and Sam, however. At least not for me.
The film is easily the most accessible of the series, although one can’t be sure if it is because we all know the story by now, or if the filmmakers finally figured out a way to translate so many loose ends into one cohesive storyline. My guess is it’s a combination of both. Plenty of characters are given their rock star moments here. We get to see Mrs. Weasley call Bellatrix a bitch, we get to see McGonagall go off on poor Snape, Neville and Ron go down to Chinatown at crucial moments. Hermoine’s best moment happens early, with a poor, chained up dragon. Then there’s Harry.
The conclusion of Harry and Voldemort is satisfying in many ways. First, each gets a chance to beat the other, but, who are we kidding, Tom Riddle was only killing off part of himself. Second and most importantly, the final battle is improved greatly from the exhaustive “Oh yeah?” “Yeah!” back and forth that seemed to go on forever in the book. The resulting flight through the sky, where the the twain was rejoined and separated once more is superfluous. At the point that it happens, Harry had already purged himself of that part of Voldemort. It sure looked cool, though. What else was for them to do? Shoot wands at each other again? It’s been done. So kudos for trying something different.
There is plenty of loss in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Tonks, Lupin and Fred, poor Fred, are primary among them. So many lost, willingly despite the promise of Voldemort to let everyone go freely if they give up Harry. The evolution from the celebrated “boy who lived” to the notorious boy who insisted Voldemort was back, to a man who, with the help of his friends, would face down the biggest real threat of their times is the completion of the circle. The promise of the story is answered, but not without its pound of flesh.
Which brings us back to Severus, and his ignoble end. Struck down by Voldemort, whom he ultimately betrayed, without Riddle even really knowing he had been betrayed yet. He gets no satisfaction, no knowledge and no understanding that it was he who helped the mischief to be managed. Rickman’s face, a revelation of emotion at the point which it would do him no good. He dies valiantly, sadly, and with no satisfaction. His name will survive the night unscathed, however, and become intricately woven into the fabric of the life he so desperately wanted, but could never possibly reach.
This movie is good enough, I think, to merit several nominations for Academy Awards this year. Directing, Writing and Movie of the year should be within reach. One would think if there were an acting award, it would first fall to Rickman, for his supporting role. From here, one would have to consider Radcliffe as a lead. They both deserve consideration. This movie took no easy outs and definitely no gimmicks. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 made the sum greater than any of the parts. It is the difference between a sequel and the conclusion of a saga. It is brilliant.
(***** out of *****)