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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009; Rated Rated PG)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
B+
 

“Dark, thrilling--but too much of the "Gossip Girl" stuff.”

-Richard Roeper

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

(2009; PG)

In theaters:
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Summary: As Harry Potter begins his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he discovers an old book marked mysteriously "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince" and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort's dark past.

Genre:
Action, Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Director:
David Yates

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

The running joke is the final installment of the "Harry Potter" franchise will have to be titled "Harry Potter and the Mid-Life Crisis," with Harry pondering a career change, Ron Weasley getting a hip replacement and Hermione thinking about Botox injections.

These kids aren’t kids any more. In real life, they’re 19, 20, 21, and they look their ages onscreen as they play characters a bit younger than that in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." They’re dealing with teenage crushes and broken hearts that seem at least as important to them as the fact the very face of evil is lurking, poised for the kill.

This is the darkest, richest and most complex of the HP movies to date, a film that contemplates serious issues in a grown-up manner. The special effects are thrilling, the performances first-rate. There is much to admire and love in this film. But there’s also far too much time wasted on subplots straight out of the "Gossip Girl" meets Jane Austen playbook. He likes her but she likes him, and why can’t he see that the true love of his life is right next to him??

Sigh. A little of that goes a long way. A lot of that goes a long way toward stopping a nearly-great film in its tracks.

Enough of the griping about all those raging hormones. Let’s celebrate the many triumphs of "HP6."

Daniel Radcliffe, Ruper Grint and Emma Watson remain sympathetic, smart and likable as Harry, Ron and Hermione, respectively. And Tom Felton, looking more and more like a petulant teenage version of Eminem, adds a layer of humanity to the tormented Draco Malfoy. These actors have played these roles for half their lives, and they’re utterly comfortable and natural.

But as always, it’s the All-Star cast of veteran British character actors that get the juiciest roles, the best speeches, the most memorable moments.

Jim Broadbent is deliciously batty as Professor Horace Slughorn, who has an almost uncomfortable fondness for his young students. He’s also harboring a dark secret about young Tom Riddle, who would eventually morph into Voldemort. Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Prof. Minerva McGonagall, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, among others—-all excellent and charming.

Alan Rickman, as ever, is villainous platinum. (It remains one of the great injustices that Rickman wasn’t nominated for his portrayal of Hans Gruber in the original "Die Hard." Of course Bruce Willis was great in a tailor-made role, but Rickman MADE that movie.) Rickman kicks it up a notch here, stretching out his line readings in almost cartoonish fashion, eliciting great laughs while keeping us wondering: is he really that evil, or is there room for ambiguity?

Director David Yates, helming his second HP film in a row, grabs us with an exciting and scary opening sequence in which Death Eaters terrify Londoners. Dumbledore snatches Harry from a flirtatious encounter with a Muggle and urges him to forge a fast bond with Broadbent’s Prof. Slughorn, who holds the key to some vital information about Voldemort.

There’s a thrilling and funny Quidditch match and numerous detours into those aforementioned romantic complications, but "The Half-Blood Prince" will be remembered for the brooding and sometimes frightening sequences in which beloved characters suffer lasting setbacks, blood is spilled and Harry and a true friend face an army of murderous creatures.

If you don’t know the books and you haven’t seen the previous films, "The Half-Blood Prince" might as well be in another language. You will be lost. Of course, there are tens of millions of hardcore HP fans the world over, and they are already flocking to this long-awaited installment. I can’t imagine they’ll be disappointed. Although the film would have been better off if Yates and the excellent screenwriter Steve Kloves hadn’t dawdled so much on the romantic stuff (why DOES Hermione love Ron so, anyway?), this is still one of the best HP films and one of the most entertaining movies of the summer.
 

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