With this final installment, the acting has done nothing but improve. Whereas in the previous films I felt Daniel Radcliffe generally showed, as Hermione would say, the emotional range of a teaspoon, here he delves deeper, showing more emotion than ever before. Helena Bonham Carter also deserves special recognition, although not for her role as Bellatrix LeStrange (she is, as always, fantastically creepy and demented). Her portrayal of Hermione, post-polyjuice potion, impersonating Bellatrix while the trio breaks into Gringott’s Bank is flawless. Bonham Carter captures every physical mannerism of Emma Watson’s Hermione, from her walk to the way her face arranges when she tries to hide her anxiety. This is one of my favorite scenes in the film.
The film is beautifully crafted from beginning to end. There are many notable scenes, like a sweeping shot of the trio running through the battle on the way to find Voldemort and Nagini, that emphasize the chaos and panic of the battle. On Harry’s walk through the courtyard on the way to the Forbidden Forest to face Voldemort, his path is illuminated to subtly suggest a cross. And, of course, there is the breathtaking, perfectly heartbreaking scene with the resurrection stone. Alexandre Desplat’s score is exquisitely melancholy and epic. The special effects of Gringott’s dragon are possibly the best in the series.
The past seven films have each had some parts that were spot-on while other parts disappointed, and this eighth film is no exception. During the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry, Harry’s lecture is replaced by showy tricks. There were laughably awkward moments—in one scene, Voldemort embraces Draco—and curious additions (a romance between characters Rowling clearly stated did not get together), uncharacteristic actions (McGonagall sending all of the Slytherins to the dungeons) and unforgivable omissions, including the scene leading up to the death of a certain ginger-haired character. However, even for die-hard fans these changes only dampen the generally satisfying film.
The movie is peppered with references to the earlier installments—a flock of Cornish pixies in the Room of Requirement, a chocolate frog on the window of the Hogwarts Express in the epilogue—that inspire welcome feelings of nostalgia to break up the relentless melancholy and adrenaline. Screenwriter Steve Kloves uses his screenplay to acknowledge the significance the franchise has had (and will continue to have) for so many people. Memorable statements from Dumbledore and Lupin remind us of the importance of convictions and the power of words. Through Neville Longbottom, Kloves provides the most comfort of all, reminding us that “It doesn’t matter that Harry’s gone. People die every day. Friends, family. Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. But he’s still with us, in here [gestures to chest]. So’s Fred, and Remus, and Tonks—all of them . . . Harry’s heart did beat for us, for all of us! It’s not over!"