Assignment One: Film Review
2230F: Critical Reading and Writing in Film Studies
For your first assignment, please write a “quality˝ film review of a film watched in class – similar to one of those read and analyzed in class. Your verdict of the film is of minor importance – what matters is how you develop your point and the way you present it to your readers. Although we have read reviews by well-known, established reviewers that use the first person singular, for this writing exercise please refrain from using any “I“-s. Instead, take the courage to present your verdict as objective. A good review is as much of an art work as a short story or a film. The review should be 500 words and is due on Friday, Oct 23, on OWL.
Here are few tips:
• The first paragraph should beginn with a catchy first sentence that should catch the reader’s attention (such as a detail that is linked to the film’s overall theme or purpose; a general statement about a genre/director/cinema/cycle, the films’s relationship to the present, or a fascinating fact). The first sentence is the most important part of any journalistic writing, and it is especially good – and helps to build your reputation as a writer – if it already contains an interesting/intelligent/surprising twist. Try to avoid clichés or boring truisms.
• A standard way of writing a film review would be to move on from the catchy introduction to a description of the details of the film (director, important participants, release date, source material, genre etc). If your catchy introduction is too long (e.g. because you are using a very literary/poetic description as a jumping off point), these factual aspects can be moved to the second paragraph. Nevertheless, the first paragraph should ideally already present a thesis about the film (e.g. what it wants to be; its political message; its unique selling point, the premises of its fictional world) and a verdict (both can be elaborated later).
• Often, the second paragraph retells the plot of the film – but usually without major spoilers or giving away too much. The purpose is to make readers curious, both about the film and how your review continues. Make sure to put the name of the actor in brackets after the name of a character when s/he is mentioned for the first time.
3rd and 4th paragraph
• The pupose of the 3rd and 4th paragraph is to support your verdict. To do this, you have to remember that a good review has a dramatic arc like a story. Your opinion and taste matters, but only insofar as they can help you develop a film critical perspective. Also keep in mind that you cannot cover all aspects of a film in this section but have to focus on those that seem relevant to your thesis and verdict (and also fit the arc of the story that you are trying to tell). Formal and other analytical aspects matter here. Arguments about the realism of characters or storylines usually are not very convincing (if the point of comparision is an unreflected/stereotypical idea of everyday reality and “normal“ behaviour).
• Try to look at the film as a whole comprised of elements that are connected and only together create the impression that your are trying to verbalize. In this part, the aspects that matter are those that you would also discuss in a more academic, critical essay: direction, narrative strategies, set and setting, characters, surprises, camerawork, color, mise-en-scene, the film’s message (if you think there is one), characters, etc. Good reviewers sometimes manage to connect the film critical/formal discussion to the overall thesis or verdict introduced in paragraph one (e.g. the Sight & Sound review of Fahrenheit 451).
• In the final section of your essay you should draw all threads of your essay together and return to your thesis and verdict. Since you have already presented evidence in paragraph 3 and 4, you can now reinforce and amplify the ideas from your introduction. You could argue that you would recommend the film (with or without specifications: for what audience? when and with what expectations is the film enjoyable? etc.) or you could engage with the question of how successful the film is at being the film that you think it would like to be. You can zoom out and hint at the wider implications of the film (from film history to contemporary politics) or use a detail again (usually from the end of the movie) to argue a point about the film and how the viewer might feel when the curtain comes down. In yor conclusion, you can use more rhetorical tricks (like irony or surprising twists). The most important sentence in this paragraph is your final sentence – it should be as catchy and polished as your first sentence.
Keep in mind that a film review not only has an evaluative function; it is also a business card and showroom piece for you as a writer! You want to be hired again by the editor or build a reputation for your blog!
A good website on how to write a film review can be found here: