Harry Finds Himself Ostracized During His Fifth Year at Hogwarts
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Rated PG-13 for frightening images and fantasy
Running time: 138 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Review by Kam Williams
Excellent (4 stars)
The task of adapting the fifth in the best selling series of children's books was entrusted to David Yates, ostensibly on the strength of Sex Traffic, his made-for-TV movie about the global prostitution business which won eight BAFTA Awards in 2005. Here, the gifted British director has more than met the daunting challenge of distilling the essential elements of J.K. Rowling's 870-page fantasy into a coherent and compelling, two-hour cinematic saga.
Furthermore, he's figured out a way to remain faithful to the tenor and tone of the earlier episodes, thereby crafting a seamless addition onto the beloved Harry Potter franchise. Yet, Yates has also appropriately imbued his maturing boy wizard with a typical, post-pubescent teenager's obsession with romance.
Thus, this go-round, we find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) wrestling not only with his trademark demons but with his own raging hormones. The object of his affection is Cho Chang (Katie Leung), a cute classmate he has developed a crush on. But that budding love relationship remains merely a sidebar to the primary plot which revolves around whether he lied about having an encounter with the late Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
At the picture's point of departure, Harry's winding down another uninspiring summer spent at the home of his unsupportive Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). The action starts with a distracting red herring, when he whips out his magic wand to survive a beating by a gang of bullies who've start teasing him on the street. Since it's against Hogwart's rules for anyone under 17 to practice witchcraft outside of school in front of muggles (ordinary humans), Harry is expelled for the infraction, only to be reinstated almost immediately thereafter.
Of far greater consequence is the fact that, upon his arrival back on campus in the Fall, he learns that most of the students and faculty have come to believe a vicious rumor spread over vacation that he and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) had made up the story about the reincarnation of the evil Voldemort. As a result, Harry is ostracized, while the disgraced Dumbledore is deposed as head of Hogwarts.
The latter's responsibilities are gradually assumed by the ambitious Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), an imperious bureaucrat whose unreasonable rules serve to stifle the student body at every turn. Exhibiting the demeanor of a strict Catholic school nun, this no-nonsense disciplinarian orders a new defensive approach to magic likely to leave the young wizards vulnerable to an attack from the Dark Arts, especially if Voldemort has really somehow been revived and returned to power. Of course, this means that Harry, along with his best friends and loyal classmates, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Ruert Grint), might just have to save the day by taking matters into their own wands.
Imelda Staunton's scene-stealing performance as the overbearing Umbridge overshadows a plethora of other excellent outings, most notably, Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. The impressive supporting cast also includes Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters and Emma Thompson.
The Order of the Phoenix ought to prove to be the most palatable of the Harry Potter screen versions because it is designed to deliver a riveting cinematic experience capable of being appreciated by audiences unfamiliar with the source material's multi-layered, elliptical tale or often confounding jargon. Basically, it's the Little Rascals to the rescue in a flick dressed up as a mystical fable replete with medieval mumbo jumbo and some cool, state-of-the-art special f/x.