Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts for a third adventure and magic filled year in this follow-up to the first two Potter blockbusters. Harry comes face to face with danger yet again, this time in the form of escaped convict Sirius Black. In a bid for help, Harry turns to sympathetic Professor Lupin -- but will it be enough?
Alfonso Cuarón, taking the franchise over from Christopher Columbus, injects this third Potter picture with a shadowy, sensual mood. The look is grainier and grimier, and the themes are a bit darker and more unsettling than in "Sorcerer's Stone" or "Chamber of Secrets." There is less Quidditch and more Snape, which is all to the good, as are the efforts of new cast members like Michael Gambon (taking over for Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore), Emma Thompson (as a batty divination teacher), David Thewlis (as the latest defense-against-the-dark-arts master) and Gary Oldman, who brings his adaptable villainy to the title role. The film's major weakness, sad to say, is Harry himself. Approaching adolescence, Daniel Radcliffe may also be reaching the limit of his range as an actor; he seems unable to summon the complex, volatile emotions that the story, with its notes of grief and rage amid the usual boarding-school intrigue, demands. Still, Mr. Cuarón breathes some new life — and a new sense of mystery — into a series whose charms are in danger of declining due to over-familiarity. — A. O. Scott
2004-06-03 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban