Harry Potter

film 6 of 8

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 5, 2014

What a sure-handed opening! I’m talking about the Millennium Bridge, along with Harry and the attractive waitress down in the Underground. Darkness and enmity, juxtaposed with and countered by youthful hopefulness. The special effects are spectacular, but always subordinated to character and theme. (Unless they’re just being fun, which is another thing altogether.) Hilarious Horace turns out to be the way into death, and maybe transfiguration. It seems to me that in terms of technique and range and all, Mr. Radcliffe finally arrives. Look at that—he’s really good! He also finds these formidable old actor guys awaiting him. Jim Broadbent pulls faces wonderfully, while by this point Michael Gambon is effortlessly, practically, awe-inspiring.

From there great thing follows great thing, exquisite balance and judgment follows ex. b.& j. Look how comedy leads to poignancy (the smoochy Lavender episode giving way to the apotheosis of Miss Grainger; Slughorn’s mugging to that simple, stirring speech about responsibility and honour). Look how direness creates depth of feeling. The conclusion to that Hogsmeade visit is right out of Asian horror, perfectly designed and executed, perfectly shocking. Unlike much Asian horror, however, it is also fearsome and pitiable. That Burrow sequence is for the ages, I think: the trembling stasis of burgeoning romance giving way to utter malice (and stupendously kinetic cinema), then to mournful, exalting solidarity. The Burrow burns, and everything good seems threatened, except that the real good is ultimately unaffected by the threat.

Etc., etc. The Inferi sequence is disappointing because it feels like it comes from another franchise, or at least from the Chris Columbus parts of this one. Too much, and too little as a result. But the aftermath, back at Hogwarts! The combination of melodramatic elements—Bellatrix—and rounding and rounded characters (watch Malfoy become interesting, watch the effortlessly monumental Rickman) is really effective, and really right. That plus that equals actual tragedy, and Dumbledore’s demise is both devastating and exalting. The event, rendered in that setting, manifest in that brief indelible falling image, is as good, as affecting, as mythical as Gandalf’s expiration in Moria.

Is the aftermath to the aftermath too sentimental? It is not. We’ve invested, and they’ve been worthy our confidence, and we commiserate together. Great! Grateful!