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At The Movies: Harry Grows Up: Order of the Phoenix ***1/2

As the beloved Harry Potter series comes to a mournful end on July 21, when J.K. Rowling releases the last of the books that have come to mean so much to whole generations of young readers, the trajectory of the films has been elevated, suddenly, to a whole different level. 

Directed by David Yates from a screen adaptation by Michael Goldenberg, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is very likely the most moving and satisfying of the Potter films and does something it has never really done before: it mirrors back the terror of our war-torn times, the paranoia and the lack of faith in our institutional leaders. 

How much of this comes from the book is not going to be discussed in this review, as this reviewer has not yet tackled the dense book (I left that to my nine-year-old, who loved the book and loved the movie equally).  The film, however, stands well enough on its own, save for an inside joke or two. 

A lot has changed with this, the fifth film, namely star Daniel Radcliffe’s acting ability.  The young lad has become quite obviously a man, with meaty pecks and a wide jaw.  He gets his first real kiss this time around and finds himself dealing with the tug of good and evil as Voldemort tries to possess Harry’s soul.  Radcliffe has never come close to exhibiting this depth of character, which is one of the reasons Order is so involving. 

The story picks up after Cedric was killed by Voldemort in the last film.  Most people don’t believe Harry that “he” has returned, putting Harry in an awkward position.  At the same time, a new administrator has taken over Hogwarts, a wolf in pink woolen fuzzy slippers.  Imelda Staunton stars as the cotton candy pink Dolores Umbridge. Clothed in the pinkest of pink, with a terse clacking of heels on the concrete floor and kitten portraits on her wall, Umbridge is the worst kind of prig.  Umbridge orders the wizards-in-training at Hogwarts to stop learning magic and focus only on test scores.  Because, after all, there will be no need for magic, no need for thinking, no need for learning – only this desire to teach to the test.

Clearly, Rowling, a former teacher,  doesn’t much like the concept of teaching to the test.

Staunton’s is one of the many adept performances in the film.  Under Yates’ skillful hand, Alan Rickman as Snape, Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Julie Walters as Mrs. Weasley and of course, Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, all shine in their roles a smidge more than usual.  Rickman is a particular standout. 

I have to admit that up until this film, the Potter films have been a chore to sit through.  They all seemed like Harry was never in much danger.  They were always beautiful to look at and the acting has always been top notch but the stories themselves seemed somehow lacking, as if they could never really match Rowling’s imagination.  But this film feels more complete, more like a film that has its own message, its own point for being. It isn’t just a picture version of the book it’s based on. 

The only drawback to this film and every other film that came before it except the first two – Hermione Granger has been relegated to being merely a Harry Potter support and cheerleader.  Her own story has all but disappeared. Perhaps it’s been cut from the book to streamline the film.  Maybe this is yet another reason to encourage fans of the films not to forget to read the wonderful, wonderful books.

It’s not quite time to say goodbye to Harry.  The books will be ending soon but there are still two more Potter films to come after this one.  If Order is any indication, they will keep getting better.

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