Reviewing ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ is a fairly superfluous exercise.  The first of a planned two-part adaptation of the
series’ concluding novel makes almost no attempt to be a self-contained film.  And because of this, you can bet that opinions on the first
part will shift wildly based on ‘Part 2,’ which will hit theaters next July.

So does one penalize ‘Part 1’ for being incomplete, or go on good faith that its potential will be realized in the conclusion?

And there certainly is a lot of potential.

You hear this with every subsequent entry in this series, but ‘Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ is easily the darkest installment.  This is the moment
where everything in the wizarding world goes wrong.

Director David Yates, now on his third installment, wallows in the sadness and helplessness of Harry, Ron and Hermione, who find
themselves homeless and on the run from the forces of the Dark Lord Voldemort.  Yates instills the proceedings with a wonderful sense of
dread and foreboding.

Although ‘Part 1’ contains plenty of impressive set pieces and visual effects, it’s really the character moments that carry this film and set it
apart from the previous installments.  For the first time in the series, the simplest sequences that leave the strongest impressions.  Be it
the growing conflict between Harry and Ron or the depressing actions of Hermione for the protection of her non-magical parents, the film
has a legitimate dramatic weight.

A large part of the film is spent with the kids taking refuge in the various forests of England, struggling to figure out what to do next.  They
seek to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes; devices in which he has sealed a portion of his soul for protection should his body be destroyed.  
This becomes easier said than done, as destroying them is as challenging as finding them.

Even though it’s easy to criticize the slow-moving forest sections, they do provide great character moments that will benefit everything that
follows.  It allows for some of the most substantial acting in the franchise, and all three of our heroes carry the load exceedingly well.

The film is also great to look at with the requisite superb art direction from Stuart Craig brilliantly realized by excellent visual effects work.  
Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is not as striking as Bruno Delbonnel’s on last years’ ‘Half-Blood Prince,’ but is very good in its own right.

Sound design is phenomenal and Alexandre Desplat’s score is effective.  The series has never filled the void left by John Williams’
departure, but Desplat’s score hits the right emotional notes.

And that’s really why this film succeeds.  It doesn’t have the benefit of a self-contained plot, but it has enough heart to make up for it.  And
even when seemingly nothing is being accomplished by our main characters, we feel the pang of every defeat and setback.

Most of the usual supporting characters show up for a moment here or there, but only Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort leaves a lasting
impression.  His menacing performance is genuinely terrifying from the moment he steps on screen.

The main shortcoming of the film ends up being that it’s simply an incomplete story.  But with the conclusion coming to theaters just seven
months from this review, you can see why this is a difficult one to rate.

One legitimate complaint with the film itself is that it feels just a hair too literal in its adaptation.  Screenwriter Steve Kloves has avoided
this with his best work in the series, but with what will probably end up being at least five hours to fill with this story, some sequences feel
like they have been included simply to replicate the book more than to serve the movie itself.

So what we have with ‘Part 1’ is a well-made, but frustratingly incomplete film.  If the quality of the filmmaking remains consistent between
the two parts, ‘Deathly Hallows’ (Taken as a whole) should be at least a three-and-a-half star film.  As a standalone, however, ‘Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ is a good setup for what will hopefully be a satisfying conclusion.

* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Steve Kloves

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson,
Ralph Fiennes

Cinematography by: Eduardo Serra

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Released: November 19, 2010; 150 Minutes