Movie Review Writing: Advice from 2 Film Critics

Movie Review Writing: Advice from 2 Film Critics

A movie review is a document that provides critical commentary on a film.  Movie reviews are commonly found in popular media, so it is likely that students who are called on to write a movie review can find many existing examples.  However, it is likely that in a college class, a movie review will be assigned to assess a particular film that relates to the subject matter of the class.  Therefore, a movie review written for a college class will be somewhat different from a movie review published in the local paper in that it must comment specifically on the ways in which the film comments on, informs about, or explores particular themes and subject matter that relate to the class.

A movie review should begin by announcing the full title of the film, the film director, the film's primary actors, and the film's genre.  The genre is the type of film it is.  For instance, some films are documentaries.  Others are historical films.  Others are romantic comedies.  

After this introductory information has been presented, the movie review should provide a synopsis of the action.  A synopsis is the same as a summary.  The synopsis should outline the major events of the film, identifying the primary characters, themes, plot, and subplots.  Unless otherwise specified by the instructor, however, movie reviews must avoid giving away the film's ending.  The synopsis should provide a thorough understanding of the film's action, but not give an indication of how the film resolves that action.

After the synopsis, the movie review should critically assess the film.  The critical assessment should be the longest part of the movie review—roughly 2/3 the length of the entire document.  It should discuss various aspects of the film's content and presentation.  For instance, if the film were a historical film, the movie review would comment on the content by assessing how historically accurate the film is and how well the film expresses its themes.  In terms of presentation, the movie review would discuss the quality of acting, the cinematography, the directorial choices of mood and scene, the soundtrack, and any other element of the way the film looks or sounds.

The point of a movie review is not to provide an individual's personal likes and dislikes, but rather a critical assessment Movie reviews should therefore avoid the use of the first-person voice.  This means that the identity of the writer ("I") should not figure into the text.

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Viewpoint of Critic #2
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College and university students are often required to write a film review, especially as part of a film or English course.  Writing a film review is not always as easy as it seems because a student has to watch the assigned film in an entirely new way than they are accustomed to doing.  Film reviews require that students do more than enjoy the film; they require that the student watch the film with a critical eye.

Films, especially those assigned for film reviews, tend to have specific audiences and messages in mind when they are created.  One object of a film review is to analyze whether or not the film succeeds in its message and whether or not the film would appeal to its intended audience.  Both of these issues should be addressed in a student's film review.

Writing a good film review generally requires that a student view the film more than once.  For some assignments, a film will be assigned that is available at a theater only once for viewing.  This can make the assignment more difficult, but that might be the intention of the course instructor.  Whenever possible, a student should try to watch the film more than once.

A film review should begin much like a story review.  It should include basic information about the film itself.  Examples of important information to include would be the name of the director, characters, setting, and historical period.  The review should also mention the style of camera work and the type of editing used in the film.

Some parts of a film are obviously more important than others, yet each part of the film should build on the other parts or provide background information.  A film review should mention how well the film attends to these aspects of presenting the story.  Students should address how the flow of the story affects the story itself and how any editing benefits or hurts the story.

Many instructors will give students specific instructions about what they want students to address in their film reviews.  Students should make sure to thoroughly address each of the aspects specifically listed by the instructor.  The instructor may or may not want anything other than his/her specific list addressed, so students must be careful to follow directions.

Writing a film review is much like writing a book report except that the media is different.  The writing should be as solid as a novel review and will address many of the same issues.  Thinking of a film review like a book report can help take the fear out of writing one.

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