Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted by Joel Copling on December 5, 2015

The threat of open warfare looms darkly over the proceedings of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," and if you don't believe me, just take a gander at the muted colors in Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography. It's a classic case of a film's chosen aesthetic more or less mimicking the grimness of the narrative, although Steve Kloves' screenplay (based on the sixth novel of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular book series) wisely doesn't ignore the lighter comic elements of the proceedings either. The book was the same delicate balance of often tragic melodrama involving the secrets of a certain dark wizard and the relationship struggles of our protagonist, his two best friends, and their fellow students.

The focus of the movie is largely the latter thread. We catch up with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) shortly after he has suffered an awful personal loss. He is reunited with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) at the former's family home the Burrow but not before venturing with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, who stands out as particularly great here), venerable headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to convince Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to his old post as Potions master. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), meanwhile, will occupy the coveted Defense Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts, from which it is rumored Dumbledore wanted to keep him in the past.

Matters of the heart are on everyone's minds here. Two separate love triangles start: Harry pines for Ron's younger sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) while she takes up with fellow Gryffindor sixth-year student Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch), and Hermione begins to realize her deep attraction for Ron while he enters a whirlwind romance with the ditzy Lavender Brown (a hilarious Jessie Cave) and Hermione attracts the attention of jockish Quidditch player Cormac MacLaggen (Freddie Stroma). Radcliffe's, Grint's, and Watson's performances are particularly attuned to the comedy of all this, from Lavender christening Ron with an annoyingly precious knew nickname and Harry commenting to Ron that perhaps Dean is interested in Ginny because she has "nice skin." When a love potion goes horribly awry for Ron, he states, "These girls--they're gonna kill me, Harry."

The others in the castle, such as Maggie Smith as Transfiguration professor Minerva McGonagall (a solid presence in the series, though sort of a background character with a lot of air time), are mostly afterthoughts. The exceptions are Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, very good here), whose aspirations to be the next great dark wizard have multiplied since his father has lost favor with the other Death Eaters and landed himself in the wizarding prison Azkaban (He has a mysterious mission from Voldemort that allows him to skulk around the castle, testing a strange cabinet and involving himself in an elaborate plot against, well, someone), and Snape, who seems to be in league with Draco (Rickman's performance here smartly employs a certain sadness behind those cold, dark eyes).

Matters of the series' mythology almost seem to exist on the sidelines for what is primarily a character study, but what's here are some delicious nuggets of info. It's no accident that Dumbledore wanted Slughorn to return. He is an agent of Dumbledore's real agenda: to dig into the past of Lord Voldemort as a way to weaken and, ultimately, defeat him. The weapons with which Dumbledore will achieve this are a series of memories showing a younger Voldemort while he was still called Tom Riddle (one depicting an 11-year-old Riddle, played by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, in a Muggle orphanage on the day Dumbledore meets him, and the other depicting a 16-year-old Riddle, played by Frank Dillane, as he attempts to extract crucial info from Slughorn).

The ensuing revelations lead to a climactic set-piece in a cave that is the stuff of horror movies, with an atmosphere aided by that striking cinematography, excellent effects work, and the introduction of unnerving zombie-like creatures known as Inferi that lumber with a swift gait and piercing, dead eyes. This is followed by a rendevous on the tallest tower of the school that ends with perhaps the series' biggest gut punch yet, throwing everything for a loop, seemingly confirming one crucial character's shifty allegiances, and proving that no one in this world is truly safe. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is an intoxicating slow-burn build to a grand finale that places it near the top of the installments in this series.

Film Information

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Freddie Stroma (Cormac MacLaggen), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Alfie Enoch (Dean Thomas), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Tom Riddle at 11), Frank Dillane (Tom Riddle at 16).

Directed by David Yates and written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.

Rated PG (scary images, violence, language, mild sensuality).

153 minutes.

Released on July 15, 2009.