A great treachery is revealed, a great light is snuffed out and the final quest is set up in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” an emotional and involving installment in the hit-or-miss “Harry” movie series.
It’s a film of gloom, fear and dread — and we’re not just talking about the teen romance. A great cast is given a little room to act, something the weakest films in this planned octology have been lacking. The result is a satisfying film, coherent and engrossing enough to cover for the tedious by-the-book slog of even the best “Harry Potter” films.
In year six, Harry is summoned back to Hogwarts School to get to know a new-old teacher, Potions Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is closing in on the evil Lord Voldemort, whose Death Eaters are brazenly messing with wizard and Muggle alike. Slughorn may be of some use.
But Harry’s task is made trickier by those hormones. If he’s not flirting with waitresses, he’s mooning over the Girl Next Door or watching his best mate Ron (Rupert Grint) almost blow it with out-of-his-league Hermione (Emma Watson).
“The Chosen One” isn’t lacking for confidence. He recklessly hurls himself into tussles. And he learns from the battered copy of Advanced Potions, a book with the name “Half-Blood Prince” scribbled on the inside cover.
Director David Yates seems to find more of his footing here. The film was supposed to come out last winter, but was pulled for bottom-line reasons. The delay shows in the film’s sharper cutting, though, as always, it’s still a half-hour too long. Some of us dream of a fast-paced “Potter” that skips the obligatory Quidditch match.
But it is the first film to let Maggie Smith earn her pay. Gambon brings out Dumbledore’s humanity. And Alan Rickman has more occasions to wrap his voice around the plummy vowels of Severus Snape with a Christopher Walken relish.
Casual fan or hardcore Muggle, “Half-Blood Prince” lets us see that the end’s within reach, and that with luck and attention to tone and character, the series will go out with a flash.