HARRY POTTER AND
THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

(2009)
With Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Jessie Cave, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by David Yates
Reviewed by JB and JL
 
Hogwarts - where teachers are encouraged to offer drugs to students    JB: HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE may be the most mature, amusing and adult Potter movie to date, while ironically relying on the younger cast members to carry most of the film.  Daniel Radcliffe remains the sturdy leader of the young cast as Harry and, happily, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have more quality screen time than the previous few films. Grint  is at the center of two subplots (can Ron become a Quiddich star?/will he and Hermione sort out their relationship?) and the series has not seen a Ron Weasley this funny and engaging since CHAMBER OF SECRETS.  Watson, playing a Hermione who's realizing her true feelings for Ron, comes up with her most endearing and amusing portrayal since THE SORCERER'S STONE.   It's not just that all three of the stars give excellent performances, it's also that they work so well together this time around.  Whether it's Hermione pouring her heart out to a sympathetic Harry, or Ron and Harry engaging in late night guy talk about how some girls have nice skin, the chemistry among the trio has never been better, which bodes well for the rest of the series.

      If there is a serious lack of Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom (he still manages to grab our sympathy in what amounts to a ten-second cameo), his virtual absence is made up for by an unexpectedly winning performance by Bonnie Wright as potential Harry-love interest Ginnie Weasley.  Add to this list Jessie Cave as Ron's comically overbearing girlfriend Lavender Brown, Evanna Lynch returning as the loony and lovable Luna Lovegood, and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy at his most menacing, and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE offers the best collective performance from the young cast to date.

Why must they be teenagers in love?     The film is so solidly built around the under-25 crowd that there are only three adult stars that really matter.  If you still don't like Michael Gambon as Dumbledore after this film, I can't help you.  As in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, Gambon combines just enough wizardly dignity with a touch of "beware of the crazy old man" to create a Dumbledore who is not just the most powerful wizard of all time, but also a three-dimension human being with foibles, worries and some serious issues. Alan Rickman gets more face time as Severus Snape than he has had in quite some time, and he makes every moment count, milking every ounce of uncertainty out of a character whose true loyalties are still ambiguous.  Finally, Jim Broadbent guest-stars as Professor Slughorn, a warm but befuddled Potions teacher whose well-hidden memory may be the key to defeating the Dark Lord.  Initially, Broadbent plays Slughorn as a cartoonish character like Kenneth Branaugh as Gilderoy Lockhart or Imelda Stanton as Dolores Umbridge, but by the end of the film, he has turned in character into a frightened old man whose is desperately trying to suppress the knowledge of innocent actions of the past that may have set Voldemort's rise to power in motion.

     David Yates, helming his second Potter film, has combined with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnell to create (how many times can we say this?) the darkest Harry Potter yet, and perhaps the most impressive film of the series.  There are elements of film noir, Hammer horror films, and even biblical epics sprinkled throughout the movie.  Yet whenever things get a little too depressing or overwhelming, there is always a Harry and Ron conversation or a Hermione and Ron spat to lighten things up.  Although I struggled with the book (it was the only one in the series I had to force myself to finish), the mix of epic adventure and not so epic teen drama and comedy works perfectly in the hands of Yates, helped, of course, by teriffic performances by the cast.  

     For the uninitiated, the end of HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (who's true identity is revealed in a throwaway line near the end) contains a double-whammy of a shock.  How do Harry Potter and friends recover from the final events of this film?  We'll find out over the next two films, as HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS has been split into two parts and is rumored as being renamed as HARRY POTTER AND THE MAGICALLY SELF-MILKING CASH COW.  4½ - JB


Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Half-Blood Prince     JL: It's become increasingly easy to predict the reactions to the Harry Potter films among the members of my family as we stroll out of the cine-multi-plexi-plex after each one:
 
Lizzie (age 11): I liked it!
Me: (usually older than 11): Fun. Great. Have to think about it a bit.
Laurie (who acts her age): I can't believe they left out________!  (Fill in blank with some 100-page tangent from the book version.)
 
     So within the family, we have a cross-section of typical Potter fans: a kid who's read the books but loves the grand spectacle of the films, an adult who's a fan of the books first, and another grown-up whose guilt over not reading enough classics in college has led him to shun most of the books ("If I'm going to read a book this long, I should be reading WAR AND PEACE!").
 
Looking at the world through Elton John glasses        As with most Potter films, therefore, the success of THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is largely a matter of personal expectations fulfilled. I was a bit surprised (not disappointed, mind you) to see so much of the film's 153-minute running time turned over to character development and blossoming teen romance.  Only the final half-hour, plus about 20 scattered minutes in the first two hours, advance the saga's plot in any significant way.  Fans of the books (and I have to trust my wife, who's never lied to me about anything except her weight, on this) could be frustrated to discover that some crucial development of Voldemort's character has been jettisoned, while so many inconsequential scenes have been included -- presumably for the purpose of pleasing the book's fans.  It's true that writer Steven Kloves made some curious choices, yet somehow his choices make for one of the better, and most moving, entries in the series.
 
Insert Evil Caption Here     The veteran thespians in the cast do their usual beyond- superlatives job, especially Alan Rickman, always a sinister delight as Snape, who in this film adds a few layers of doubt, uncertainty, and (gasp) heart to his character.  The young star trio (Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson) continue to mature as actors, especially Emma Watson, whose confidence and instincts as a performer have grown by several leaps and bounds in the last couple of films.   Dan Radcliffe may have a less demanding role this time around, but he's as commanding as he was in THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, while Rupert Grint steals several scenes while carrying much of the film's considerable comic load.  Also noteworthy are Tom Felton, who shows his capacity for taking Draco Malfoy beyond his one-note snottiness and adding several layers of inner torment, and Jim Broadbent who is perfectly cast as the brooding and befuddled Professor Slughorn.
 
A broken-hearted Dumbledore cannot find his knitting magazine     (Spoilers ahead.)  There continues to be controversy among Potter fans -- including John B. and myself -- over Michael Gambon's portrayal of Albus Dumbledore.  Comments on Internet chat boards would lead one to believe that some fans would have preferred a CGI version of Richard Harris take over the role following Harris's passing after the second film.  I have no problem with Gambon -- he gets the job done and he's certainly a strong and wizened old wizard -- but I have to believe the impact of Dumbledore's death would have been much greater had Harris been around to continue with the role.  Harris approached the role with seriousness when the occasion called for it, but he added layers of whimsy and humor missing from Gambon's stoic approach.  For this film, Dumbledore is enduring a slow death, so we don't expect him to jump around like Donald O'Connor.  But the overall difference between the two can be summed up thusly: one can easily imagine Harris's Dumbledore laughing heartily, whereas a wry half-smile is about as demonstrative as it gets in Gambon's interpretation.
 
     I recently watched all the Potter films again in preparation for the current chapter, and I've decided that THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is my favorite of the lot.  But THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is a solid second or third on my list, which isn't bad at all considering I've enjoyed all the films immensely. 4 - JL

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