Who is David Yates? If you don't know, don't worry, nobody does. He's a director. He directed the unabashedly liberal movie, The Girl in the Cafe (2005) with Bill Nighy, which was on HBO. It's a charming pie-in-the-sky movie.
Until this year that was his only feature.
Yates's second feature is breaking box office records. He's the director of the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
David Yates is the fourth director to helm the series. Chris Columbus directed the first two movies, and he was followed by Mike Newell and Alfonso Cuaron.
On first impulse it might seem Yates, a veteran of British television, is just a journeyman, hired to sustain the franchise in a workmanlike manner. That assumption is dead wrong. Yates brings a new vision to the series and gives it vibrant life. He is a smart stylist.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a gripping, evocative movie. Yates has two great strengths to apply to the project. He is cinematically adept, and character is a priority for him.
Yates uses vivid color and visually-arresting images. In most contemporary movies, special effects-- CGI -- become redundant and gimmicky. But Yates uses special effects as an integral part of reality; they never overwhelm character. They're brilliant, but they partner with characterization.
The editing by Mark Day is imaginative and first-rate.
A new screenwriter adapts J.K. Rowlings' novel. Michael Goldenberg replaces Steve Kloves, who wrote the screenplays for the first four installments, and will return for the sixth. Goldenberg trims the longest novel into the shortest film -- two hours and 18 minutes, and he brings a fresh eye to Rowlings.
Director Yates is blessed with a Who's Who of English acting talent. The key of course, is Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. Radcliffe is not just going through the motions; he is an impressive actor. His emotional range and intelligence are substantial.
Radcliffe says that this movie is the best of the series. He is not just blowing potions. Yates and Radliffe humanize Harry as he hasn't been humanized before.
Radcliffe is surrounded by superb actors. Gary Oldman stands out as Harry's godfather Sirius Black, and one can see Yates's emphasis on human character in this wonderful performance.
Emma Watson, as Hermione, and Rupert Grint, as Ron, keep their high level of liveliness. Alan Rickman, as Severus Snape, curls his lip and sneers his lines with delicious cynicism. Michael Gambon, as Dumbledore, is still powerful, but his character's power is fitful and may be waning. Robbie Coltrane, as Hagrid, is as earthy as ever. Evanna Lynch, Katie Leung, Maggie Smith. Helena Bonham Carter, and Emma Thompson add quality and flair.
Imelda Staunton is destruction in pink as Delores Umbridge -- on loan from the Bush administration. She's a new teacher who brings a repressive authority to the venerable classrooms and halls of Hogwarts, as she wheedles her way to power.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's world is under assault on several fronts. He is held in distain by many of his classmates, who think he lied about Cedric Diggory's death and the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Finnes).
Harry's school Hogwarts is under severe attack by the venal, bureaucratic Ministry of Magic. A new teacher is torturing him and inflicting guilt on him. He and Dumbledore are targets of a smear campaign. Harry's romantic interest betrays him. He is wracked by guilt and awareness of approaching danger. Harry is one alienated wizard.
Hermione and Ron convince Harry to train classmates secretly in wizardry so they are equipped to fight whatever evil threatens them. Harry agrees and prepares for a foreboding future.
I've been respectful of the previous Harry Potter films, but this one speaks to me. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is eloquent cinema.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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