Releasing Your Inner Ebert: How to Write Stellar Movie Review

guru_movie-2You’ve written book reports, research essays, poetry, and short stories. You’ve even written blogs, magazine, and newspaper articles. Finally, your teacher assigns a movie review. Whether it’s a movie the whole class must watch, or a movie you get to pick, writing a critical review of a film can be a daunting task. Here’s the fun part: you’ll need to watch the movie at least twice to understand it and catch any subtle nuances within it. Duke University’s Thompson Writing Program outlines five steps in writing a film review: each review should contain an introduction, plot summary, cinematic experience, analysis, and evaluation. In other words, a typical movie review should contain at least five paragraphs. Here are some tips to help you organize your approach to writing a film review.

Opening Credits

Movie reviews should always begin by identifying the W questions: who, what, why, when. Who is starring in the movie? Who is directing the movie? What is the movie’s genre? Why did the director make this movie? When is the movie taking place? The opening paragraph should always discuss the basics; this provides the audience with enough information moving forward to understand the film critique. Take a few sentences to summarize the basic plot and note if the film belongs to a trilogy or other type of franchise. If appropriate, discuss previous actor’s roles relevant to the movie. For example, you could discuss how this is yet another Oscar-winning role for the lead character or that this role marks a departure for the lead actress who is mostly known for her romantic comedies. After providing the basic details, it’s time to provide a critical review of important aspects of the film.

Using Appropriate Language

guru_movie-3Films possess their own vocabulary, and this vocabulary should be used when writing a movie review. Need to brush up on your knowledge of film vocabulary? No problem! Check out the Filmsite.org’s alphabetical listing of all movie terminology! Of course, many of these terms may not be appropriate to every review, but it is important to use the correct vocabulary when discussing choices in the film such as close-ups, codas, continuity, discovery shots, dissolves, and ensemble casts among other key film aspects.

Narrowing the Lens

A good film review should examine key scenes or elements in a movie rather than provide a simple summary of the action happening on screen. Before beginning to write the movie review, watch the movie and take notes. Look for patterns, important dialogue, meaningful sequences, and other crucial aspects of the film. While all movies are created to entertain or to inform, how the director and actors achieve their goal should be the focus of your film review. In your review, present your findings in a chronological sequence. Narrowing the lens to focus on specific aspects of the film not only communicates that you were paying attention to the important details, but that you understand their importance to the overall story. It’s also customary to include the phrase “SPOILER ALERT” if you’ll be discussing a plot twist that your audience may not be aware of.

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Identifying Context

A well-written movie review will identify the movie’s genre and discuss elements of the movie within the context of the identified genre. Common movie genres include action, adventure, comedy, drama, horror, and science fiction. Many of these broad genres can be further broken down into subcategories. For an extensive list of broad categories and subcategories, view a comprehensive list here. Once you’ve identified your movie’s genres, it’s time to evaluate how your movie fits into this genre (and keep in mind that many movies may fit into two genres). For example, if you’re reviewing an action movie, the audience would expect a review to focus on action sequences rather than on dialogue since action movies aren’t known for their stellar dialogue. On the other hand, dramas and independent films are known for their dialogue and it would be appropriate to focus on what the characters say. It’s important to be familiar with the conventions different genres employ to achieve their goals. As a critical reviewer, your assessment of the film should discuss common conventions and how the movie incorporates them to achieve its message.

Discussing the Good and the Bad

guru_movie-1Nothing is perfect! It’s a good idea to present what worked in the movie and what failed. Provide the audience with an in-depth analysis of various aspects of the film including actors’ performances, plot evolution and twists, special effects, and general audience reactions among others. Consider director choices, actor delivery, and the script when discussing the good and bad aspects in a movie. Were there anachronisms in the film? Do you believe they were intentional or an oversight? And remember: include support for your opinion regarding what worked and didn’t work as well as suggestions for how negative aspects in the movie could be improved. For example, if you believe another actor could have portrayed the character more fully, state why and provide evidence from other films to support your opinion.

Strongly Support Your Review

A film review exists as an opinion piece: therefore, you should clearly state your opinion throughout your review. Provide the audience with a recommendation as to whether or not the movie is worth seeing in the theaters, should be purchased at home, or skipped altogether. Most importantly, provide evidence to support your opinion. This final paragraph acts as a conclusion paragraph and should review key points to support your opinion of the film.

It’s always a good idea before writing your own film review to peruse a few others. Roger Ebert’s official site contains thousands of his movie reviews; this might be a good place to start. Once you’ve viewed the movie several times, really consider what you liked and how audiences may react to the film. Follow typical writing conventions with punctuation and paragraphs, and review your final film critique against any rubric your teacher may have provided. And remember: movie titles should be italicized when typed and underlined if handwritten.