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How to Write a Film Review: Preparation, Steps, Examples

How to write a film review (true, professional, and comprehensive) and not be limited to the phrase “What a great movie!”? In this article, you will find answers to the next questions:

What Is a Film Review?

A film review is a critical judgment or discussion that informs about the release of a new film and contains its analysis, assessment, summary, as well as personal impressions and experiences after watching.

How to write a film review example
What is a film review?

How long is a movie review?

On average, the length of a film review is about 1000 words.

How many paragraphs does a movie review have?

It is recommended that the film review should consist of 5-7 paragraphs.

Read also article “How to Write a Book Review: Step by Step and Examples”.

Features of the Film Review

A film review is a persuasive piece of writing, it has some features as:

  1. A less formal style of writing. 
  2. You need to write objectively about the film. 
  3. But, on the other hand, movie reviews contain personal thoughts and feelings. 
  4. The film review’s audience is wider and more diverse. 

Movie reviews can be written by two groups of reviewers: professional critics and ordinary consumers. Therefore, the text of the review will differ. In the first case, when the reviewer is a professional critic, he will describe the movie instead of evaluating it. While consumer critics mostly write from a personal perspective. 

What is the main purpose of a film review?

The main purpose of a film review is to inform readers about the film (what can expect from it) and to help them determine if they want to watch the movie. 

Functions of the Movie Review

The film review performs several functions at once: it informs, analyzes, persuades, and entertains. If you can include all of these points in your review, then you will have an excellent result in the end. 

How to Write a Film Review: Preparation for Writing

Writing a review is, of course, a creative process, but you should not forget about the analytical approach to creating a convincing and high-quality text. You must take the work responsibly, which we will do now.

To write a professional film review, you first need to complete the following preparation steps:

  1. Of course, the first step is to find a film, if it has not been previously chosen by the manager/client/boss. There will be more chances to write a good review if the film was liked by both – film critics and you personally.
  2. Watch the movie at least 2-3 times. After the first viewing, you will get a general impression of the picture, and try to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the film. Pay attention to the details the next time you watch it: the sound, the actor’s play, the editing, the plot. 
  3. If you have difficulty understanding the events covered in the film (for example, historical), be sure to find additional information and research the topic.
  4. If after two viewings you still do not have a final assessment of the film in the form of a brief thesis, watch the film again. You can look at other works of the director who worked on this film, this will help you determine his characteristic style. Also, as an option, you can look at the game of actors in other films (for comparison).
  5. When watching a movie, take notes: key scenes, interesting plot twists, inconsistencies, details, and quotes. Then, based on them, you can build a review text, and a good quote can become an excellent epigraph.
  6. Find information about the filming: location, duration, season, details about the filming process, difficulties the production team faced, casting, etc. Such information will make the review more attractive to readers.
  7. If the film is nominated for awards and prizes, please include this information in your film review. For a potential viewer, such an assessment of the film will be a weighty argument in the direction of -> compulsory viewing.

10 Questions You Need to Answer Before You Start Writing a Movie Review

  1. Does the film split into multiple parts? A sequel, prequel, or one of the movie series? 
  2. What is the film genre (action, comedy, historical, drama, fantasy, Western, political, thriller, gangster, horror, tragicomedy, romance, sports, mystery, science fiction)? Is the movie based on real or fictional events?
  3. Did the screenplay writer create an exciting plot?
  4. Is the rhythm of the film slow and quiet, heavy and static, or chaotic and frantic?
  5. What is the film’s rating according to the MPAA? (G – General Audiences. All ages admitted. PG – Parental Guidance Suggested. PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned. R – Restricted. Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian. NC-17 – Adults Only.) 
  6. Are there any films with a similar/same theme? Sometimes it is worth mentioning some of them in a review, as a comparison.
  7. How can you characterize the work of a cinematographer? How accurately are the most expressive compositional, lighting solutions, as well as camera angles, selected and embodied?
  8. Is the film entertaining or covers a serious themes?
  9. Was the casting successful? Did all the actors cope with their roles?
  10. Is the atmosphere of the film tense, mysterious, sinister, relaxed, or romantic?

The answers to all of the above questions will help you understand how to write a film review, and above all, create a draft version of your future review. But, of course, this is not enough for the final result.

How to Write and Structure a Film Review: Step by Step

Writing a film review is a long and complicated process. Therefore, it is better to break it down into stages and move step by step. This will help you not to get lost and not get confused in the details.

  1. The catchy introduction.

The introductory part of the review should contain important information about the film: title, director, release date, and genre. 

You can mention nominations and awards, as well as indicate the box office (if the numbers are impressive) and the cast. 

In addition to “technical” aspects and a simple presentation of the plot, it is necessary to express your impression of the film in the form of a thesis, for example, to tell:

  • about the connection of the film’s central idea with current events and social problems;
  • about the similarity of the film’s plot with a personal life situation, personal experience, and feelings;
  • about the connection of technical elements (lighting, sound, editing) with the theme of the film.

2. Pass the verdict.

Do not torment the reader and express your opinion about the film in the first paragraphs of the review.

You should not leave all the most interesting “for later”. If you decide to give a final assessment of the film at the end of the review, what are the chances that the reader will read to this end?

3. Write a summary of the plot.

Choose 4-5 main events.

Avoid the film’s ending and spoilers. Keep the intrigue. If you want to spoil and share an unusual story development, warn the reader about this.

4. Bring the feelings.

In addition to presenting the plot of the film, you should add emotions to the text of the review and show what you felt while watching it.

5. Define the main purpose of the movie. 

Perhaps the film’s purpose is hidden in its plot. Or maybe the film does not pretend to solve global problems at all. Perhaps the film is entertaining, and this is its advantage – it is relaxed and simple.

Sometimes the main idea of a serious and deep film can be found in an interview with a film crew, a screenwriter, or a director.

6. Add some details of the filmmaking process. 

It is important to know the measure and not to overdo it with the terminology. Here’s what you can write about:

  • Cinematography: visual mood, lighting elements, shot sizes and widths, camera angles, etc. 
  • Sound. The main goal is to create the necessary atmosphere in the film. Sound in movies includes music, dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, background noise, and soundtracks. 
  • Editing is the creation of a finished motion picture from many shot scenes. A film editor must creatively work with the layers of images, story, dialogue, music, pacing, as well as the actors’ performances to effectively “re-imagine” and even rewrite the film to craft a cohesive whole.
  • Mise-en-scène (from French – placement on the stage) is the mutual arrangement of the actors and their environment on the set, natural or pavilion. Mise-en-scene includes landscapes, visual effects, the psychological state of the characters, etc.

7. The deep meaning.

You may be able to spot specific symbolic items, repetitive moments, or key phrases that give depth to the film.

8. Give examples.

It is not enough to say “an excellent game of actors”. Explain what exactly caught your attention (appearance, facial expressions, costumes, or movements of the actor). 

9. A convincing conclusion.

Write about the moments in the film that made the biggest impression on you. Share a recommendation. To whom and why do you advise to watch this movie?

10. Reread the review text several times.

Edit, and correct mistakes that can spoil the impression even from a professionally written film review.

Examples of Film Reviews

To consolidate the received information, let’s move from theory to practice. Below are two examples of film reviews.

Example 1

Example of film review

Apocalypse Now

Review by Roger Ebert

Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now” was inspired by Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad about a European named Kurtz who penetrated to the farthest reaches of the Congo and established himself like a god. A boat sets out to find him, and on the journey the narrator gradually loses confidence in orderly civilization; he is oppressed by the great weight of the jungle all around him, a pitiless Darwinian testing ground in which each living thing tries every day not to be eaten.

What is found at the end of the journey is not Kurtz so much as what Kurtz found: that all of our days and ways are a fragile structure perched uneasily atop the hungry jaws of nature that will thoughtlessly devour us. A happy life is a daily reprieve from this knowledge.

A week ago I was in Calcutta, where I saw mile upon square mile of squatter camps in which hundreds of thousands live generation after generation in leaky huts of plastic, cardboard and scrap metal, in poverty so absolute it is impossible to see any hope of escape. I do not mean to equate the misery of those hopeless people with a movie; that would be indecent. But I was deeply shaken by what I saw, and realized how precious and precarious is a happy life. And in such a mood I watched “Apocalypse Now” and came to the scene where Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) tells Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) about “the horror.”

Kurtz is a decorated hero, one of the best soldiers in the Army, who has created a jungle sanctuary upriver inside enemy territory, and rules Montagnard tribesmen as his private army. He tells Willard about a day when his Special Forces men inoculated the children of a village against polio: “This old man came running after us and he was crying, he couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms. . . .”

What Kurtz learned is that the Viet Cong were willing to go to greater lengths to win: “Then I realized they were stronger than we. They have the strength, the strength to do that. If I had 10 divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment.” This is the “horror” that Kurtz has found, and it threatens to envelop Willard, too.

The whole movie is a journey toward Willard’s understanding of how Kurtz, one of the Army’s best soldiers, penetrated the reality of war to such a depth that he could not look any longer without madness and despair.

The film has one of the most haunting endings in cinema, a poetic evocation of what Kurtz has discovered, and what we hope not to discover for ourselves. The river journey creates enormous anticipation about Kurtz, and Brando fulfills it. When the film was released in 1979, his casting was criticized and his enormous paycheck of $1 million was much discussed, but it’s clear he was the correct choice, not only because of his stature as an icon, but because of his voice, which enters the film from darkness or half-light, repeating the words of T.S. Eliot’s despairing “The Hollow Men.” That voice sets the final tone of the film.

Example 2

Film review: example

Diana biopic Spencer wobbles between the bold and the bad

By Nicholas Barber

You may feel that you’ve had enough of Princess Diana’s story on the big and small screens, what with Naomi Watts taking the role in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s awful Diana in 2013, and then Emma Corrin playing her in the most recent season of The Crown, with the mantel set to be passed in Elizabeth Debicki in the next run. But, to give it its due, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer marks the only time the People’s Princess has been shown delivering a lecture on Anne Boleyn to an old coat that she has just stolen off a scarecrow, and then having a chat with the ghost of Boleyn herself shortly afterwards. The Chilean director doesn’t go in for conventional biopics, as anyone who has seen Jackie (starring Natalie Portman) or Neruda will know. And here again he has gone for a surreal portrait of his iconic subject. The snag is that his experimental art house spirit keeps bumping up against the naffness and the familiarity of British films set in stately homes, so his psychodrama ends up being both ground-breaking and rib-tickling.

It’s set over three days in 1991, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, at Sandringham House in Norfolk. The rest of the Royal Family has arrived for their holiday in a fleet of chauffeur-driven cars, but Diana (Kristen Stewart) rocks up on her own in a Porsche convertible, having taken a detour to visit the aforementioned scarecrow: her dilapidated childhood home, from the days when she was Lady Diana Spencer, is a field or two away from Sandringham. Her late arrival concerns the sympathetic head chef (Sean Harris) and bothers the Scottish army veteran (Timothy Spall) who has the job of ensuring that everything goes the way the Queen wants it to. Her Majesty’s insufferable Christmas traditions include weighing all the guests when they arrive and when they leave to ensure that they’ve been sufficiently gluttonous. But Diana is in no mood for festive japes. Her Christmas present from Charles (Jack Farthing) – a necklace with pearls the size of golf balls – is identical to the one he has given his mistress. And the whisper in the servants’ quarters is that the Princess is “cracking up”. The filmmakers apparently agree.

Steering away from the same territory as The Crown, Larraín and Knight don’t fill the film with awkward meals and heated arguments (although there are one of each of those). Prince Charles does some grumbling, but the Queen has hardly any lines and Prince Philip has none: they are closer to menacing waxworks than people. For most of the time, Diana is either talking to her young sons, her trusted personal dresser (Sally Hawkins) or to herself. It’s interesting, this lack of dramatic conflict and discernible plot, but it can leave the film seeming as listless and purposeless as Larraín’s Diana herself. Her favourite occupation is to wander around the estate until she finds something that has an ominous symbolic connection to her, and then make an unconvincing speech about it. Ah, pheasants! So beautiful, yet bred to be killed!

Stewart is such inspired casting that she makes all this eccentric nonsense watchable. She’s been practising Diana’s signature moves for years – dipped head, hunched shoulders – and she certainly knows what it’s like to put up with intrusive tabloid photographers. She also looks suitably fabulous in the many outfits that Diana is required to wear over the long weekend. And unlike Watts’s performance in 2013, hers doesn’t seem distractingly like an impersonation. Mind you, she delivers all her lines in little bursts of hissing whispers, so if you don’t see it with English subtitles, as its first audiences did at the Venice Film Festival, you might not understand more than half of what she says.

The effect is a bit odd, but there are lots of odd things in the film, not least the tone and the pacing, which lurch around like someone who’s had too much after-dinner port. Between Jonny Greenwood’s squalling jazz soundtrack, the hallucinations, and the blush-making sexual confessions, Spencer is a folly that wobbles between the bold and the bad, the disturbingly gothic and the just plain silly. In some scenes, it’s heart-rending in its depiction of Diana’s self-harm and bulimia. In others, it’s almost as risible as the Diana biopic from 2013, and that’s saying something. I didn’t know any more about Diana afterwards than I did beforehand, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. This is a film that echoes The Shining at the start and 2001: A Space Odyssey at the end. The Crown Christmas Special it ain’t.

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