Review: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1'

There are no eye-rolling pauses to stare at this new magical prop or that extra-special special effect. No time for time-killing Quidditch matches.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a film of actors in close-up. The lead players have grown into the roles and the who’s who of British character actors in supporting parts shine like never before, placed, as they are, in both real-world London and a selection of desolate landscapes that match the gloom of this apocalyptic tale.

Alternately funny and touching, it’s the best film in the series, an “Empire Strikes Back” for these wizards and their wizarding world. And those effects? They’re so special you don’t notice them. The digital elves are the most lifelike the movies have ever seen.

In a hellfire and brimstone opening, the head of the Ministry of Magic (Bill Nighy) roars that “our world has faced no greater threat.” The forces of “You Know Who” have seized this and infiltrated that. The Hogwarts trio have gone into hiding, protecting their families as best they can. When Hermione (Emma Watson) movingly whispers “obliviate” and removes any memory of her from her family, her image fading from photographs as she sadly covers her tracks, we realize the stakes. And when we see Voldemort’s brain trust meet and torture a random Hogwarts teacher, the blood tells us this will be the darkest and most violent Potter film yet.

Spirited chases with Death Eaters and “snatchers,” cut like a real action film, break up Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley’s search for “Horcruxes,” the evil talismans they must destroy on “The Chosen One’s” way to his date with destiny — aka the battle with You Know Who.

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Watson, seeing the finish line of this movie marathon, fully invest in the characters again. Supporting players such as David Thewlis (Remus Lupin) Rhys Ifans (as Luna’s dad, Xenophilius Love-good) and Helena Bonham Carter — more devilish than ever as Bellatrix Lestrange — stand out.

And when the characters, as they sometimes do, disguise themselves in the bodies of others to sneak into the Ministry, David O’Hara gives a deliriously spot-on physical imitation of Radcliffe, mocking his slant-shouldered shuffling walk to a T.

Director David Yates, overwhelmed by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” after a career doing smart miniseries for British TV (“State of Play”), finds firmer footing here. The script (by Steven Kloves) is peppered with trivia — little bits of the history we’ve seen in the six preceding films. Even taking a few moments to tell us (with stark, stylized animation) what the Deathly Hallows are doesn’t interrupt the pace he’s set.

The first third is brisk and witty, the middle third gloomy and the finale not so much a cliffhanger as a grim, inspiring tease, a masterly build-up to put “I can’t wait for Part 2” on every Muggles’ lips.

Movie review

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

Grade: A-

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Grint, Rhys Ifans and Brendan Gleeson. Directed by David Yates.

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. At metro theaters. 2 hours, 19 minutes.

Bottom line: Darker, and better, than the previous “Potter” films.