Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. United Kingdom/USA, 2016. Heyday Films, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by J.K. Rowling. Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. Produced by David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Wigram. Music by James Newton Howard. Production Design by Stuart Craig, James Hambridge. Costume Design by Colleen Atwood. Film Editing by Mark Day. Academy Awards 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
J.K. Rowling exploits her fans for all they’re worth in this original screenplay based in the world of her megahit Harry Potter series, taking place decades before the action in the previous books and films in the series. Eddie Redmayne gives a hopelessly mannered performance as an enthusiastic collector of wondrous creatures who arrives in New York with contraband material in his bag and accidentally unleashes trouble upon the unsuspecting city. His mess puts him in trouble with the highly conservative magical powers that be, getting him mixed up with a low-level employee (a bland Katherine Waterston) and, most offensive to the magically-abled, involving him in a friendship with a well-meaning “muggle” (that’s a non-magical person for those of you who somehow don’t know). There’s also an incongruous subplot with a religious fanatic (Samantha Morton) and one of the adopted children (Ezra Miller) she abuses in her mission to root witchcraft out of the city and loosen the devil’s hold on the population. This aspect of the story might be Rowling’s humorous way to deal with the conservative Christian element that has been accusing her delightful and lighthearted tales of dragging down the morals of American youth into destructive obsessions with the occult, but it’s not really easy to know what she’s going for in general with this convoluted tale. Shades of a villain (a wonderful and underused Colin Farrell) and a lot of tangential adventures are part of the bargain, the whole thing taking too long and making far too little sense to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe this franchise on a regular basis. It’s quite obvious that a writer with this level of popularity will never be told she’s wrong about anything by greedy film producers who know the audience will show up no matter what; it’s a shame that her talent is wasted on an experience that is persistently uneven in tone and plot and, like most of the Potter films that David Yates has directed, far too full of its own sense of self-importance.