At The Picture Show
A tall 'Order'
Moody, foreboding 'Phoenix' continues to expand and improve on the Harry Potter series
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Michael Goldenberg, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon,
Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham
Carter and Ralph Fiennes
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 18 minutes
Opens July 11, 2007
(out of four)
No one knew who David Yates was. He'd been a veteran of the industry for a
while, but was known mostly for his work in television. And he was taking over
the lucrative Harry Potter franchise with a filmography whose most notable film
was the HBO-produced drama, The Girl in the Café.
It was a choice that, his British-ness aside, had
more than a few scratching their heads. But in The Order of the Phoenix, Yates
proves equal to the task - even equal to his more prolific predecessor, Mike
Newell, who directed Goblet of Fire two years ago. Both that film and this one
seem to be covering too much ground to fit in two-and-a-half hours (surely
hardcore fans of the books can attest to that), but Order of the Phoenix does so
more gracefully than did the fourth installment. Utilizing the old-fashioned
"newspaper headline" convention to get through some of the logistical details of
the plot, the film is able to filter in those essentials while concentrating on the
meatiest aspects of the story.
The film finds Harry and his cohorts at odds with the forces of bureaucracy -
namely the Ministry of Magic - and propaganda, in the form of The Daily
Prophet, the newspaper that begins to smear Harry's reputation at the behest of
Minister Fudge (Robert Hardy). The Ministry refuses to accept Voldemort's
imminent return and admonishes Harry for doing so. Both he and Dumbledore
have found themselves on the Ministry's bad side, and Harry has been ostracized
from most of his peers at Hogwarts.
With Dumbledore already under fire, the Ministry
sends in the cheerfully sadistic Dolores Umbridge as the school's newest Defence
Against the Dark Arts teacher. Umbridge not only draws the students' ire by
refusing to teach them any actual spells - dealing instead only in "theoretical"
magic - but it's not long before she has replaced Dumbledore as headmaster, fired
such teachers as Sybill Trelawney (Emma Thompson), re-organized the school
with a new, more rigid set of rules and guidelines and even dabbled in a bit of
light torture. For the sake of discipline and order, of course.
As Umbridge, British actress Imelda Staunton is another in a long line of inspired
choices in this series, brilliantly creating a deliciously evil comic villain whose
anal-retentiveness is matched only by her ignorance.
The way she transforms Hogwarts into a place of
straight-laced joylessness is depressing and frustrating for both the students and
us, but also sets the stage for some increasingly clever (and useful) acts of teenage
rebellion. Needless to say, the twins, Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver
Phelps), have more than a little something to do with this. Most importantly, Harry
and Co. convince several of his classmates that he's telling the truth about his run-in with Voldemort, and they begin training for battle in a "Room of Requirement"
- which appears only when someone desperately needs it - right under
Umbridge's smug little nose.
As expected, this series continues to grow darker. The bright-eyed kids have
started to grow up, and the sinister forces encroaching on them is starting to weigh
heavily on Hogwarts. Order of the Phoenix focuses less on magic and more on
character than the last film, or the first two, for that matter. More than anything,
this film is about Harry's own isolation - from everyone and everything. Already
without parents or much family, he becomes alienated from his schoolmates, his
instructors and even his friends.
He lashes out in frustration for no particular
reason; he constantly feels angry. He's haunted by visions of ominous
foreshadowing. It seems that the whole world is against him. And while every
teenager probably feels that way, Harry actually might have a point. After all, he
was the one who actually had to see Cedric killed, and who actually saw
The rift continues between Harry and Dumbledore, who, while remaining Harry's
greatest advocate, hardly looks his way anymore.
Over the course of the whole series, Harry has always been a lonely, isolated
character, and this film is right to go in that direction and explore his alienation
Naturally, his visions and emotions have to lead to something, and they do, as the
film builds up to an extended and supremely executed dramatic climax that serves
also as a compelling lead-in to the sixth installment. With a film series that relies
so much on visuals and action, the big setpiece that closes the film seems like the
biggest question mark for a director such as Yates, who had never before tackled a
project of this magnitude, and with this kind of budget. But he does a fantastic job
with the visual exposition of the scene, and able to crisply and urgently tackle
several plot points and character arcs at once.
Yates is the first non-big name director to take a
crack at Harry Potter, but he may have made the second-best film of the whole
series. While it would be difficult to match the lyrical beauty and depth of Alfonso
Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban (which, while apparently deviating considerably
from the material, remains one of the best fantasy films to come along in years),
Yates has followed admirably in his predecessors' footsteps, continuing - with the
help of new screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, who may have written the best
script of the series - to take the franchise in interesting directions. The playfulness
of the early films may now be gone, but at the very least, Cuaron, Newell and
Yates have made Chris Columbus a distant memory. And with Yates already
signed on for Half-Blood Prince, we can expect more of the same progress.
Read more by Chris Bellamy