Home — Essay Samples — Entertainment — Movies — Movie Review

one px

Essays on Movie Review

Once in a while, you’ll be asked to do a movie review essay. This task is a great training tool for enhancing critical thinking skills. Essays on movie review aim at presenting a film from the most important scenes, special effects, to exciting moments and may be accompanied by criticism. From an advertising perspective, such a paper is aimed at convincing readers to watch the movie in question. Your writing should let a reader draw a conclusion, i.e, whether the film is worth their time or if they should try something else. Most importantly, your opinion must be independent and accurate. But how can you create a perfect introduction if you don’t have the experience in this type of writing? Relax. A good online writer can do it for you. If you have an idea but need some guidance, simply ask for a professional outline or use evaluation essay examples for students for more insights.

Hook Examples for Movie Review Essays

"a cinematic masterpiece" hook.

"Prepare to be captivated by the sheer brilliance of this cinematic masterpiece. Explore how every frame, performance, and detail contributes to a visual and emotional spectacle."

"Beyond the Screen: Themes and Messages" Hook

"This film transcends entertainment, offering profound themes and powerful messages. Dive into the underlying ideas and social commentary that make it a thought-provoking experience."

"The Journey of Character Development" Hook

"Follow the compelling journey of characters who evolve throughout the film. Analyze their growth, conflicts, and relationships, making this movie a character-driven narrative."

"Visual Delights: Cinematography and Special Effects" Hook

"Be prepared to be visually stunned by the breathtaking cinematography and cutting-edge special effects. Explore how these elements enhance the storytelling and immerse the audience."

"Unforgettable Performances" Hook

"The cast delivers unforgettable performances that breathe life into the characters. Discuss standout acting moments, character dynamics, and the emotional impact of their roles."

"The Soundtrack: Music That Moves" Hook

"The film's soundtrack is more than just music; it's an integral part of the storytelling. Explore how the score enhances emotions, sets the tone, and complements the visuals."

"Cinematic Analysis: Directing and Editing" Hook

"Delve into the meticulous craftsmanship of the director and editor. Analyze their choices in pacing, sequencing, and storytelling techniques that make this film a cinematic triumph."

Character Analysis of Smoke Signals

Forrest gump psychological analysis, made-to-order essay as fast as you need it.

Each essay is customized to cater to your unique preferences

+ experts online

Symbolism in Disneys Moana

Titanic movie review: acting and emotions, a critical look at aladdin the movie, the wizard of oz movie review, let us write you an essay from scratch.

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Shrek 2: an Animated Movie Review

Sociological analysis of zootopia, a movie review of back to the future, a science fiction film by robert zemeckis, review of the movie clueless, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

Expert-written essays crafted with your exact needs in mind

The Description of The Movie "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone"

"avengers: endgame": movie review, disney's beauty and the beast movie analysis, maleficent movie review: a fresh take on the sleeping beauty, analysis of the film "bad boys ii" by michael bay, greatest series of all time: "stranger things", the "inception" movie: review, a critical review of the movie finding nemo, a review of the film 'coraline', a report on the film avengers: infinity war, "tom and jerry" - one of the most famous cartoons, the personality of spongebob squarepants, film review: traffic by steven soderbergh, movie review: forrest gump, the blind side movie review and analysis, shutter island analysis: the role of symbolism, a study of the impact of caillou and spongebob on children, review of the series, gossip girl, film review: 12 monkeys, breakfast at tiffany’s: a revolutionary romantic comedy, relevant topics.

  • Do The Right Thing
  • The Hunger Games
  • Hidden Figures
  • Freedom Writers
  • Miss Representation
  • Movie Summary
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Ready Player One
  • Indian Horse
  • Documentary

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!

Bibliography

We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

essay review film

  • Human Editing
  • Free AI Essay Writer
  • AI Outline Generator
  • AI Paragraph Generator
  • Paragraph Expander
  • Essay Expander
  • Literature Review Generator
  • Research Paper Generator
  • Thesis Generator
  • Paraphrasing tool
  • AI Rewording Tool
  • AI Sentence Rewriter
  • AI Rephraser
  • AI Paragraph Rewriter
  • Summarizing Tool
  • AI Content Shortener
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • AI Detector
  • AI Essay Checker
  • Citation Generator
  • Reference Finder
  • Book Citation Generator
  • Legal Citation Generator
  • Journal Citation Generator
  • Reference Citation Generator
  • Scientific Citation Generator
  • Source Citation Generator
  • Website Citation Generator
  • URL Citation Generator
  • Proofreading Service
  • Editing Service
  • AI Writing Guides
  • AI Detection Guides
  • Citation Guides
  • Grammar Guides
  • Paraphrasing Guides
  • Plagiarism Guides
  • Summary Writing Guides
  • STEM Guides
  • Humanities Guides
  • Language Learning Guides
  • Coding Guides
  • Top Lists and Recommendations
  • AI Detectors
  • AI Writing Services
  • Coding Homework Help
  • Citation Generators
  • Editing Websites
  • Essay Writing Websites
  • Language Learning Websites
  • Math Solvers
  • Paraphrasers
  • Plagiarism Checkers
  • Reference Finders
  • Spell Checkers
  • Summarizers
  • Tutoring Websites

Film&Movie Review Examples and Samples

Reviewing films can seem fun, but it actually takes discipline to explain all the elements of a film and to express your opinion succinctly. Check out our film review samples to gain a better understanding of how to write one yourself.

How to Write a Movie Review: A Comprehensive Guide

Writing a movie review is an engaging process that combines film criticism, analysis, and personal opinion to create an informative and thought-provoking piece. A well-crafted review not only serves as a helpful guide for potential viewers but also deepens our understanding of the cinematic experience. In this article, we will explore the essentials of review writing, focusing on crucial elements such as plot summary, thesis, opinion, characters, cinematography, and more.

Start with a Plot Summary

Begin your movie review with a brief synopsis, offering an overview of the film’s storyline. This recap should be concise and engaging, giving readers a general idea of the movie’s premise without revealing too much. For a more structured approach, consider using an AI literature review generator to help you summarize key points efficiently. Remember that your summary sets the stage for the critique and analysis that follow.

Develop a Thesis

Your thesis is the central idea or argument that you will explore in your movie review. This main point should be clear and focused, serving as the backbone of your critique. Consider what themes or aspects of the film stood out to you, and build your thesis around these observations.

Express Your Opinion

A significant aspect of writing a movie review is sharing your personal viewpoint or perspective. Offer your judgment on the film’s strengths and weaknesses, providing specific examples from the movie to support your appraisal. Be honest and thoughtful in your assessment, considering both your own preferences and the film’s intended audience.

Analyze the Characters

Discuss the film’s characters, examining their roles, personas, and the actors’ performances. Consider how the cast contributes to the overall narrative and whether their portrayals are convincing and memorable. Analyze the characters’ development throughout the movie, as well as the relationships between them.

Examine the Cinematography

Cinematography plays a crucial role in a film’s visual style and storytelling. Delve into the camera work, lighting, photography, and framing, evaluating how these elements enhance or detract from the movie’s overall impact. Consider how the cinematography supports the film’s themes and emotions.

Conduct a Thorough Analysis

A comprehensive movie review requires a detailed examination of various aspects of the film. Study the director’s choices, the music and sound design, and the technical elements such as craftsmanship and artistry. This thorough scrutiny will help you provide a well-rounded critique that captures the essence of the movie.

Discuss the Director’s Role

The director is the creative force behind a film, responsible for shaping its vision and execution. Analyze the director’s choices, considering their impact on the film’s storytelling, pacing, and overall atmosphere. Reflect on the director’s previous work, if applicable, and how this film fits into their oeuvre.

Evaluate Music and Sound

Music and sound play an essential role in creating a film’s mood and atmosphere. Examine the soundtrack, score, and audio design, considering how these elements contribute to the movie’s overall experience. Discuss the effectiveness of the composition, melody, and soundscapes in enhancing the narrative.

Assess Technical Aspects 

Review the technical aspects of the film, such as the expertise and proficiency of the crew, the quality of the special effects, and the overall production value. Analyze how these elements contribute to the film’s success or shortcomings, and whether they support the movie’s themes and narrative.

Evaluate the Acting 

Analyze the actors’ performances, considering their delivery, expression, and interpretation of their roles. Discuss whether the acting feels authentic and engaging, and how it contributes to the film’s overall impact. Pay attention to standout performances or any instances where the acting may have detracted from the movie’s overall quality.

In summary, writing a movie review involves a careful balance of plot summary, thesis development, opinion sharing, and thorough analysis of various aspects of the film, including characters, cinematography, directorial choices, music and sound, and technical elements. By considering all these factors and incorporating the appropriate keyword density and LSI keywords organically throughout your review, you can create an engaging, informative, and well-rounded critique that will appeal to readers and enhance their appreciation for the film. Remember to be honest and thoughtful in your assessment, and most importantly, enjoy the process of delving into the world of cinema.

Dance Me Outside (1994) Movie Review Essay Sample, Example

Dance Me Outside Dance Me Outside, a 1994 Canadian film directed by Bruce McDonald, is a thought-provoking and engaging movie that explores themes of racism,…

The Meg Essay Sample, Example

The first horror movie I ever saw was “Jaws”–an all-time classic filmed in 1975 by Steven Spielberg. My parents did not let me watch “Alien,”…

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Essay Sample, Example

It is a well-known fact in the video game industry that movies made after video games are often impossible to watch. A lot of legendary…

For Honor – Video Game Review Essay Sample, Example

When something becomes ubiquitous, it tends to lose its uniqueness and complexity. I believe this is some sort of universal law opposite to the famous…

Good Time: Film Review Essay Sample, Example

There is a saying that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Many of us, however, probably experienced a series of misfortunes at least once…

Neon Demon Essay Sample, Example

I love beautiful movies. If a film is eye-candy with carefully designed decorations, masterful camerawork, lighting, and architectural frames, I can forgive anything else in…

Isle of Dogs Essay Sample, Example

I do not like cartoons. When I was a child, I preferred reading and drawing to watching television, cartoons included–which makes the fact that I…

X-Files Essay Sample, Example

Before starting to review one of the greatest–in my opinion–TV shows of all time, let me put some suspense and psychological pressure on you first.…

Interstellar Essay Sample, Example

I do not know about you, but to me, about 90% of the movies you can see in cinemas nowadays are dull. I know that…

Twin Peaks Essay Sample, Example

Skeptics like to debate whether humanity’s way of entertainment has changed throughout recent centuries or not. Some claim that it never did, and just as…

Whiplash Film Review Essay Sample, Example

Whiplash (2014), directed and written by Damien Chazelle, is a film mainly about the relationship between a music teacher and his student, and what it…

The Hunger Games Essay Sample, Example

Dystopia is not a new genre in literature and cinematography. Dystopian worlds have been described in the novels of such writers as Herbert Wells (the…

Fifty Shades Darker Essay Sample, Example

Creating an erotic melodrama movie is an extremely delicate matter. There is a thin line between erotics and vulgarity, and an even thinner divide between…

Mean Streets, Directed by Martin Scorsese Essay Sample, Example

By Dan Schneider There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1973 film, Mean Streets, that is key to understanding not only the characters that…

Broken Embraces Essay Sample, Example

By Valentine Rossetti Once more, the maestro of Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodóvar, gives us a heady mixture of suspense, stormy melodrama, and theatrically dramatic characters.…

Alien: Covenant Essay Sample, Example

The scariest movie I watched in my childhood was definitely “Alien.” As I grew up, I watched it several more times, and although I still…

Being Cross with Trump Essay Sample, Example

By Luke Douglas-Home You may have seen it at one of the many documentary festivals it has wowed, in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Birmingham or Toronto. You…

Wuthering Heights Essay Sample, Example

By David Birch The tagline of Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights—‘Love is a force of nature’—is almost too good. As a selling-point, it is best not…

Certified Copy Essay Sample, Example

By Valentine Rossetti Persian director and pioneer of Iranian new wave cinema Abbas Kiarostami graces the silver screen with his oeuvre once more. Not since…

Letter from an Unknown Woman Essay Sample, Example

By Timandra Harkness It is a glorious film, but you could not make it now. And that is not just my opinion. My preview screening…

Remember Me

What is your profession ? Student Teacher Writer Other

Forgotten Password?

Username or Email

How to Write a Movie Review

How to Write a Movie Review

essay review film

Writing a Film Review

Movies have become a cultural mainstay of our society. Not only are they art and entertainment, but they have also become a way for people to bond and make connections. Finding someone who has a similar taste in movies can create new friendships and start interesting conversations. That's why understanding how to analyze a movie and write movie reviews is such a useful skill. 

Do you need to know how to write a movie review for college? Or how to write a movie critique? Or maybe just how to do a movie review? In this article, you will learn how to write a movie review step by step, as well as get an in-depth guide into each section of a movie review.

What is a Movie Review?

A film review essay is more than just a plot summary followed by a recommendation. A movie review analyzes different elements of a movie and mixes personal opinion with objective analysis. The goal of the movie review is to tell the reader about the details of a movie while giving them enough information to decide for themselves whether it's worth watching or not. Of course, a good movie review also has to be interesting and engaging! 

How to Write a Good Movie Review

More than most other pieces of writing, there are a lot of steps to take before actually getting into writing a movie review. But don't worry though, most of these steps are pretty fun and if you follow them, you will know how to review movies. 

Watch the film! 

It goes without saying that you need to watch a movie before you write a review for it, so, before you do anything else, watch the movie at least once. Don't worry about trying to pick up specific details on your first watch, just enjoy the movie and get a general impression of whether you liked it or not and what you liked or disliked. Ideally, you should watch the movie at least two times. On your second and third viewings, pay attention to movie review criteria like cinematography, acting, dialogue, character development, deeper meanings, etc. Read some film review examples to get a sense of the things they talk about.

Pause the movie on your second and third viewings and take notes on things that stand out to you. Don't be afraid to take as many notes as you want, after all these notes are just for you.  You might not use all the notes you have taken, but they will help you compose the main part of your body paragraphs.

Express your opinions

Once you have watched the movie a few times and taken notes, make a list of the strongest opinions you have about the movie. If you think that the quality of acting was one of the best parts of the movie, use your notes to come up with specific examples. You should have between 3 and 5 key opinions that you will elaborate on when writing a film review along with examples to back up your claims.

Think about your audience

The language you use is going to change based on who you are writing the movie review for. If it is an assignment for school or university, then you may have to use more technical language.  If you're writing an article for a website or personal blog, then think about who the audience is and use language appropriate for them. Keep in mind that your audience also depends on the genre of the movie you are critiquing. A movie review for a serious period drama will have a different audience than a buddy cop comedy and therefore different language. Look at a movie review sample from different genres to get an idea of the type of language to use. 

Research the actors

Having big movie stars associated with a film is often one of the main selling points of a movie.  If an actor is critically acclaimed, it’s especially important to mention the awards they have won as this is often a sign of the overall quality of the movie. It's also possible that you didn't like the movie overall, but one of your favorite actors was in it so you enjoyed the movie and another fan might enjoy it too. 

Do background research

An easy way to make a movie review interesting is to search for interesting details about the making of the movie. It may be worth mentioning if it was shot in a particularly beautiful place or a unique location, or if the special effects were practical rather than CGI. Include interesting casting decisions or other actors that were considered for a particular role. Think about what information could be interesting to someone who might want to watch the movie and include those details. Go over some movie critique examples to get inspiration. 

Research the professionals

People can be fans not just of the actors, but of directors, writers, cinematographers, costume designers, and many other elements of filmmaking. Many directors are auteurs, which means they have a very particular visual style or storytelling method. How much time you spend on this section is dependent on your audience. If you're writing for social media or a blog for general people, then this might not be interesting to most. But if you're writing for film school or for a specific audience interested in filmmaking, then this section will need to be more elaborate. Look at a film review example written for different audiences to understand the differences. 

Draft an outline

Now that you've done all the required research, it's time to come up with a review outline. An outline is always useful when doing any piece of writing because it gives you a  chance to visualize the structure and plan how you want to incorporate information. This is the general film review format.

Introduction

  • Brief summary of the film
  • Discuss plot, tone, characters
  • Discuss creative and technical elements
  • Your opinions

Conclusion 

Come up with a catchy title.

Almost more than any other piece of writing, a movie review’s title needs to be engaging. A title like ”film review of (name of the movie) might be to the point, but isn't going to stand out. A good title should grab the reader's attention and make them want to read more. A few ways you can do this is by talking about a specific actor or director, or by using one of the main plot points of the movie. For example, “A Romantic Comedy for the Unromantic”,  or “Chris Pratt Plays Against Type in the Best Possible Way”. Look at the titles of some movie review examples for inspiration!

Write your review

It's finally time to get to the actual writing! The next part of this article talks in-depth about each section of a film review. 

People aren't going to take a review seriously if you have spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. If it's an assignment for school, then you’re going to lose marks because of mistakes like that. Make sure you reread your paper a few times and check for typos and other silly mistakes.  Read the paper out loud once or twice to get an idea of if it has a good flow. Don't be afraid to move sections around if you think it helps you build a stronger case.

Struggling with the Film Review?

Get your assignments done by real pros. Save your precious time and boost your marks with ease.

How to Write a Film Review

Do you want a ‘how to write a movie review’ template? Let's go over the specific parts of a film review and what to include in each one.

Your first sentence needs to capture the reader's attention. You can do this by stating an interesting fact about the movie, starting off by expressing your opinion of whether it's good or bad, mentioning some of the important actors, comparing it to other movies in the genre or to real-world events, whatever it is, make sure it's catchy!

Next, give background information about the movie. This includes things like the title, release date, studio, important cast members, director, budget, etc. Make sure to highlight any achievements of the movie, for example, if it was nominated for any awards. The same goes for the director as well as important members of the cast. This shouldn't just be a dry stating of facts, rather this should be a collection of interesting information about the background of the movie. 

Finally, end your introduction paragraph with your thesis. In the case of a film review, your thesis is essentially what you thought about the film. Without giving away too much, express your overall impression of the movie noting particular things that you thought stood out or were weak.

Summary of the story

The trick to writing the summary of the story is giving readers an idea of what to expect without giving away any important plot points or spoilers. The goal of this section isn't to explain the plot of the movie, It's to make sure that people have a basic understanding of the story so that the rest of the review can make sense. Describe the setting of the movie, which includes the main locations and time period. Introduce the main characters (including the name of the actor in parentheses after the name of their character). And go over the general storyline. 

Plot elements

This is when you start explaining what you thought about the movie. Start with an analysis of the plot itself. Did it have a rising action that builds suspense? Was the climax a good payoff? What were your overall impressions of the movie? How did it make you feel? What do you think the purpose of the movie was and did the director succeed in their goal? 

This is also the section where you get to talk about the different characters in the movie. Why did you enjoy certain characters? Were some characters better developed than others? Could some characters have benefited from more development? Was the villain particularly interesting? 

Think about the overall mood of the movie, did it change over time? How did the tones and symbols of the movie emphasize elements of the plot? Remember that any point you make in this section has to be backed up by examples. So if you say that there are several plot holes that make the movie complicated to understand, mention the specific scenes.

Creative elements

There are a lot of technical and creative elements in a movie that can stand out even if the overall plot and story weren’t the best. On the other hand, even a great story can be spoiled by bad dialogue or set design. These are some of the creative elements you should pay attention to especially when rewatching the movie and taking notes.

Dialogue : This can refer to the overall writing of the movie as well. If you can get your hands on a script then read it! When thinking about dialogue ask yourself, did the conversation between characters seem natural and flow easily? Or did it seem choppy and unnatural? 

Cinematography : Cinematography refers to the camera effects and the choices of how to film a certain scene. The lighting, the choice of camera angles, essentially the unique perspective of the story as told through the camera. 

Editing : Editing refers to the transition between different scenes as well as how well the movie flows together. This could include things like clever montages, longshots, different perspectives, etc.  

Costumes : Some movies, especially historical movies, fantasy films, and science fiction films, depend heavily on costume design. Costumes are an integral part of making a character stand out or making the world seem more real.

Set Design : Set design refers to the backgrounds of scenes. Some sets might be more elaborate whereas others can be minimalistic. Each choice has its pros and cons and effective set design creates proper ambiance, setting the tone and mood for a scene or the movie.

Music and Sound : Sometimes the movie has a great soundtrack or just incredible sound effects that help make it stand out.

Stunts : More important for action movies, but in general stunts and action sequences can be a major selling point for a film.

Special Effects : Most movies rely on some amount of special effects, and whether it be CGI, or practical, or a combination of the two, the quality is important.

Once you have analyzed multiple different elements of the story from its plot, characterization, and other technical and creative elements, you can state your opinions and provide evidence for them. Make sure you refer to specific scenes or specific situations when looking for substantiating evidence. Remember that the goal of a movie review is not to just state whether you liked or disliked a movie, it is to analyze it in an objective way, and give information so that somebody else can decide whether they want to watch the movie or not.

In the conclusion you express your main opinion of the movie along with the most important pieces of evidence. You can talk about the purpose of the movie and whether the director was successful in showing that purpose. End with a recommendation of whether the movie should be watched or not, along with suggestions of movies that are similar to it.

Did you like our Film Review Guide?

For more help, tap into our pool of professional writers and get expert essay editing services!

Mistakes to avoid

You now know how to write a review on a movie but let's take a look at some mistakes that you should be careful to avoid.

Not focusing on the film

It's easy to start writing about things like the historical events the movie you loved is based on or the importance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall rather than focus on the movie itself.  While those elements can be interesting to include as background information, the point of a film review is to go over a particular movie so that is what you should spend the most time on.

Not providing evidence 

A common mistake people make when they write movie reviews is to state their opinions without any objective analysis. An easy way to overcome this mistake is to make sure that you provide evidence for any claims that you make.

Spoilers are an easy way to make sure that people will be upset with your movie review. It is common to accidentally give away too much, especially when writing the plot summary. Find the line between giving enough information so that people understand the general story and revealing important plot twists and turning points. Read some sample movie reviews for examples of how to avoid spoilers.

Using personal pronouns

Statements like “I did not like the special effects” or “I did not like the pacing of the movie” are clearly expressions of opinion. It is better to make statements like “the special effects in certain action scenes were cartoonish and took away from the realism of the film”. 

A movie review essay can be incredibly fun to write, especially if you have a strong opinion about the movie. But keep in mind that a movie review isn't just about your opinion, it has to include an objective analysis with claims backed up by evidence from specific scenes. It's difficult to have a movie review definition, but a great movie review is a blend between personal opinion and objective analysis. It informs the reader about the strengths and weaknesses of the movie while letting them make the decision whether they want to watch it or not. 

If you found your way to this article because you were looking for help on how to write a movie review for college, then you're in the perfect place. If you need any help, don't hesitate to reach out to the experts at Studyfy. At Studyfy, we offer a wide range of custom writing services, coursework writing services, and essay writer service . Our team of experienced writers is well-equipped to handle any writing task you may have, no matter the complexity or urgency. Just say, " write a paper for me ," and we will ensure that you receive a high-quality custom essay that meets all your requirements. Trust us to provide you with the best coursework writing services and custom essay writing that will help you achieve your academic goals.

Featured Posts

How to write a scholarship essay.

essay review film

How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Write‌ ‌an‌ ‌Argumentative‌ ‌Essay

essay review film

How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay

essay review film

How to Write an Expository Essay

essay review film

How to Write an Analytical Essay

essay review film

How to Write a Reflective Essay

essay review film

Search form

  • Request new password

You are here

How to write a good movie review essay.

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed. The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Filmmaking is the most popular department of show business. It is the world of colors, fantasy, joy, and magic. It brings a lot of entertainment material for us. We have been watching movies and dramas since our childhood. They show us all kinds of content of our interest like cartoons in childhood, fantasy fairy tales for teenage girls, social dramas, and movies that we watch in our adult age. Movies are important components of our society that describe our culture, tradition, and religion. 

We have different favorite movies that we repeatedly watch and discuss with friends at every step of our lives. Another thing that people do is write reviews about movies. A movie review is different from a thesis review or research p Paper review. Because it changes from them, so it may be a bit difficult too. The beginners seem in trouble when they are assigned to write a movie review. If you are facing trouble writing a review paper, you can get help at  writemyessayonline.com . 

We arrange a list of ten brilliant tips that can turn you from beginner to expert. 

Top ten tips for writing an attractive movie review 

1. Start your review essay with an attractive introduction:

Starting paragraph of any essay has a key value that can influence the entire paper. Start your review with a stunning introduction and add useful data to it. For example, write about the movie title, introduce the director and producer. Write the name of leading roles and releasing date. The thesis is another important piece of information that must be added in the introductory section. A thesis can help to show the link between present issues and the main idea of the film. It can also describe the similar things that you experienced in real life and the movie plot. 

2. Avoid putting your opinions into cold storage:

Most readers focus on the introductory section of the review because of the short time. However, we suggest writing your analysis and opinion in the starting part of your review. Avoid writing your opinion in dark or hidden places like the middle-end or the last part of the review. 

3. Write a summary without breaking suspense: 

Avoid spoiling the suspense of the movie in your review essay. Instead, describe the events occurring in the movie in just 3 to 5 lines without leaking suspense. But if it is the need for review to write something in your summary, then warn the readers first. 

4. Explain the overall experience of watching the movie: 

Writing a summary is required to describe the main theme of the film. When you write a summary, tell the readers about your experience. Do not write the scene as you watch on TV. Share your feelings and emotions that stir up when you see some specific scenes. 

5. Describe the purpose of producing this movie:

Describe the need to produce this film. To describe the purpose, you must know about the genre of film. For example, is it an entertaining movie or a social, political, and religious movie? After revealing the genre, find the central purpose of the film. If it is an entertaining movie, do not go deeper to spoil its purpose.  

6. Write a few details that describe filmmaking:

Avoid giving attention to formal scenes created in the film. Watch the complete movie, not for once. Repeat it to get a better level of understanding. Then extract two or three main elements around which the entire movie revolves. Here are some components that you should describe;

  • Mise-en-scene 
  • Cinematography 

7. Search for understanding the deep meaning:

A high-level film does not show superficial meanings. It always has essential phrases, repeating components, and symbolic materials. An excellent produced movie always has these components that allow deep understanding.  

8. Give examples:

A review needs a valid example to develop trust in readers. You can’t satisfy the readers by writing that “the actors show great performance” or “the background sound was faulty.” It would be best to put examples of how the acting was great and why the sound was bad. 

9. Write a brief and well-organized conclusion:

After writing all of your collected information about the movie, briefly describe the whole discussion in a well-organized conclusion. Then, you can write recommendations like watch the movie or not, or you can watch it with family or with just friends, etc.  

10. Do editing and proofreading at the end: 

It is necessary to read your review after completing it. Also, ask your friends or teacher to read it and suggest editing if required. It can happen that you did not notice a mistake while reading, but other people do after proofreading and correct the recommended changes and mistakes carefully. Your review essay must be clear of any spelling, grammar, and structural mistakes. 

Conclusion:

These 10 points can be helpful for beginners to start writing reviews. The expert takes it lightly but can prove heavy for starters. For example, a professional review about filmmaking describes in 4 words; introduction, analysis, convince, and entertainment.

More by this author

Jump back to navigation

Critical Blast is dedicated to delivering news, reviews, opinions and interviews from the field of entertainment and pop culture.

Publisher: Howard Price

Staff: About Us

FTC Statement

ANNOUNCING: Critical Blast Publishing!

Reprint Policy

Follow us on LinkedIn

Recent Posts

Dinosaurs rule the earth in saurischian press' 'terrible lizards: a dinosaur horror anthology', lejonklou entity: follow-up, springtime provides a hoppy hunting ground in gravitas pictures' latest release, 'easter bloody easter', pr: help us lay the foundation for the "meg", last viewed, marvel's first black movie superhero gets 4k blu-ray release, the #comicsgate thing, philbrick's the big dark a big, realistic scare, the flash gets his own lego activity book, faster than lightning.

Copyright 2014. Articles copyrights retained by contributors. CriticalBlast.com logo developed by Troy Riser .

  • 1-800-611-FILM

How to Write a Movie Review: 10 Essential Tips

As long as there have been films, there have been film critics. Starting with the early days of cinema, where reviews appeared in newspapers and magazines as brief, descriptive pieces, as filmmaking evolved as an art form, so did the role of the critic. James Agee, André Bazin, and Pauline Kael shaped the discourse around cinema, and today, famous film critics like the iconic Roger Ebert , The New York Times’s A.O. Scott , and The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis continue to leave an indelible mark on the world of cinema.

With the rise of the internet, film criticism now encompasses a wide range of voices and perspectives from around the globe. Sites like Letterboxd make it possible for anyone to write short-form reviews on film. Even stars like The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri have accounts and share opinions on the latest box-office hits.

How to Write a Movie Review

Today, contemporary YouTube and TikTok critics such as Red Letter Media , deepfocuslens , and DoMo Draper don’t just write film reviews, they shoot videos and skits. Through their creative formats, they offer refreshing and unique perspectives while building communities of diehard film and television enthusiasts. Whether you choose to write reviews for your own blog, other websites, or social media channels, by learning how to write a movie review, any aspiring filmmaker can start to watch films intentionally. 

@domodraperr Replying to @xsindeviltriggerx I’ll get right on that, Sir!🫡 #comments #movies #film #satire #fyp #mulan #disney ♬ I’ll Make a Man Out of You (feat. Black Gryph0n) – Cover – Samuel Kim

TikTok film critic “DoMo Draper” provides commentary on new and old films, often calling out racism, social injustice, misogyny, and prejudice.

While there’s no perfect approach to writing a review, there are best practices that every aspiring reviewer should consider.

Here are ten tips on writing a compelling piece.

1. Watch the film at least once.

For new reviewers, it’s impossible to capture everything after one viewing. Watching the film first, then watching to take notes, is an easy way to improve the quality of your final review. This will also make it easy to recall in-the-moment thoughts and reactions.

how to write a movie review

Take a review by Christian Blauvelt of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Circus , for example. Since the film does not have sound, properly critiquing the film requires close attention. Viewers have to pay attention to the various nuances in Chaplin’s performance, follow the story, and take in the cinematography. Regarding The Circus , Blauvelt writes, “The film lacks a conventional plot, but is rather a pearl necklace of strung-together episodes. ” The statement isn’t a criticism, but a keen observation likely gleaned from more than one viewing. 

So while every film reviewer has their own approach, many choose to watch a film more than once to deliver the best possible review. Image The Criterion Collection.

2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.

Professional reviewers do not shy away from sharing whether they thought a movie was good, bad, or indifferent. In a review for the film Mother!, reviewer Candice Frederick describes the film as “uncomfortable,” and “controversial,” helping viewers understand the tone of the movie. While Frederick seemed to enjoy the film, her honesty about how it would make audiences feel was vital in writing the review.

Be sure to back up these thoughts with specifics–a disappointing performance, beautiful cinematography, difficult material that leaves you thinking, and so on. Professional reviewers should express why and how they came to their criticism.

3. Consider your audience.

Are you writing for a fan site or a news outlet? Who will read your pieces, and what are their interests? Knowing who your readers are and where the review will be published can help you decide what elements of the movie to highlight. For example, take these two very different reviews for the film ‘Synecdoche, New York’.  

how to write a movie review

The first review was written by Alonso Duralde for The Today Show , and clocks in at around 500 words. The film focuses on the bullet points: characters, plot, and a concise review. The second review is over 3,000 words and published on the Critical Critics blog . This review goes into massive depth (and yes, includes spoilers) about the film, providing an incredible amount of analysis. The first review is tailored for the casual filmgoer, while the second is for cinephiles. Each review serves a different purpose.

It’s also a good idea to adjust your writing style to fit the target audience. For example, Alonso Duralde is a talented film reviewer and likely wrote the review to fit the tone of The Today Show site. Image via Director’s Library.

4. Talk about the acting.

When reviewing a film, it’s important to take space to discuss the performances. Does the film feature a seasoned actor in a new kind of role or a brilliant performance from a rising star? How was the acting? In a review by Brett Milam for the award-winning film Whiplash , he goes into rich detail about performances by both breakthrough actor Miles Teller and seasoned professional JK Simmons.

Regarding Teller, Milam writes, “This is a performance. This is art,” and about Simmons, “I found him fascinating to just look at.” Those are just small examples of the analysis he provides regarding their acting. As the film mostly focuses on the relationship between their two characters, Miles as the protagonist and JK as the antagonist, the review of the performances lends well to the plot of the film: student and teacher going head to head in an intense and determined showdown. 

Feedback about how well the actors handled the script, the dynamics in an ensemble, and so much more can help describe how the actors did in any given film.

5. Call out directors, cinematographers, and special effects.

Reviews that include highlights or missteps of directors, cinematographers, and costume designers can help provide support to your critiques. By providing specific examples of what worked, what surprised you, and what fell short of expectations, reviewers can write a well-thought-out review that goes beyond whether or not you liked it.

how to write a movie review

In a review for A Wrinkle in Time , Monique Jones artfully crafts a piece that diplomatically cites the missteps of the film. From analyzing the quality of the CGI to the camera techniques to inconsistencies in the rules of the fantasy universe, Jones fairly offers a critique that guides the filmmakers and crew on future endeavors. To write this type of review, it helps to have some knowledge of the filmmaking process so you can properly assess the screenwriting, cinematography, special effects, acting, and more. Image via Disney.

6. No spoilers!

The point of writing a movie review is to get people interested in seeing a movie. That’s why it’s absolutely best practice to not reveal spoilers in a film review. Film reviewer Robert Daniels approaches this creatively. In his review of Annihilation , he provides commentary on what would be considered spoilers. However, he places that part of the review at the bottom of the article under a bold header/image that warns the reader he’s about to spoil the film. For reviewers who want to dissect the entire film, this is a good way to both tease the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it and cater to people who want to know what the ending is.

Remember: the goal of any film review is to discuss the plot without revealing any twists or the ending of the film. 

7. Study the professionals.

As with all writing endeavors, the more you read, the better. However, with the modern landscape of film reviewing, which can go beyond writing and extend to content creation for social media platforms, there are a ton of reviewers to take notes from. First, determine what kind of reviewer you want to be, and what kind of medium you plan to deliver your reviews on. If you plan to post to Medium, for example, studying the reviewers already established on the site can be a great starting point.

Then, read film reviews for some of your favorite films. Determine which style of review you like and don’t like. Question why, and use your critical eye to consider why one reviewer has a hundred thousand followers and another only has two. If you’re looking to be featured on a website or a magazine, read the publications where you’d like your writing to appear as a template for your reviews, and don’t forget to read the submission guidelines. A few examples of film review professionals include Rotten Tomatoes , Roger Ebert , and Film Comment. 

8. Reread, rewrite, and edit.

While writing film critique is based on opinion, and follows the style of the reviewer, it’s still important to edit work. Writers should check for spelling, grammar, and readability. No matter how good a writer’s opinions are, they will not be taken seriously if the director’s name isn’t spelled correctly. Tools such as Grammarly and Hemingway Editor can be great for correcting and finding areas that need improvement. 

9. Find your voice.

The best reviewers have a distinct personality that comes across in their writing. Los Angeles Times film reviewer Carlos Aguilar wrote an impassioned piece about the film Beatriz at Dinner , going into a lot of detail about his experiences working in the film industry and his Mexican heritage. By sharing anecdotes about casual racism he’s experienced and connecting it to the film’s protagonist, and what she goes through, the review feels personal and relatable.

how to write a movie review

“If at a film festival – to which I’ve gotten access to because I’m a published writer – in a progressive city like Los Angeles, I must keep my guard up when people question my right to be there, then how are the voiceless supposed to feel safe, respected, or hopeful?” Aguilar writes. 

For new reviewers, developing this type of unique voice does not happen overnight, so take every opportunity to write as an opportunity to develop your style. Image via BBC.

10. Know your taste.

As a film reviewer, it can be helpful to identify your taste in film. By knowing specific preferences, strengths, and biases, reviewers can offer nuanced critiques that resonate with audiences and provide valuable guidance on which films they might enjoy. Additionally, it helps to maintain credibility and integrity as a reviewer by ensuring that assessments are authentic and reflective of personal cinematic sensibilities.

Try to explore various genres, directors, and themes to understand what resonates emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically. Pay attention to the types of stories that engage you, which can help define your preferences.

Learn More About Filmmaking at NYFA

Film students with writing experience actually make great reviewers, as many of them are required to study a range of topics relating to film that can include cinematography, screenwriting, producing, and much more. Ready to build even more skills in filmmaking? Request more information about New York Film Academy’s filmmaking programs and workshops today!

  • PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game New
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Film Studies

How to Write a Movie Review

Last Updated: March 13, 2024 Fact Checked

wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 179 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 5,575,952 times. Learn more...

Whether a movie is a rotten tomato or a brilliant work of art, if people are watching it, it's worth critiquing. A decent movie review should entertain, persuade and inform, providing an original opinion without giving away too much of the plot. A great movie review can be a work of art in its own right. Read on to learn how to analyze a movie like a professional film critic, come up with an interesting thesis, and write a review as entertaining as your source material.

Sample Movie Reviews

essay review film

Writing an Intro for a Movie Review

Step 1 Start with a compelling fact, quote, or opinion on the movie.

  • Comparison to Relevant Event or Movie: "Every day, our leaders, politicians, and pundits call for "revenge"– against terrorist groups, against international rivals, against other political parties. But few of them understand the cold, destructive, and ultimately hollow thrill of revenge as well as the characters of Blue Ruin. "
  • Review in a nutshell: "Despite a compelling lead performance by Tom Hanks and a great soundtrack, Forrest Gump never gets out of the shadow of its weak plot and questionable premise."
  • Context or Background Information: " Boyhood might be the first movie made where knowing how it was produced–slowly, over 12 years, with the same actors–is just as crucial as the movie itself."

Step 2 Give a clear, well-established opinion early on.

  • Using stars, a score out of 10 or 100, or the simple thumbs-up and thumbs-down is a quick way to give your thoughts. You then write about why you chose that rating.
  • Great Movie: ABC is the rare movie that succeeds on almost every level, where each character, scene, costume, and joke firing on all cylinders to make a film worth repeated viewings."
  • Bad Movie: "It doesn't matter how much you enjoy kung-fu and karate films: with 47 Ronin, you're better off saving your money, your popcorn, and time."
  • Okay Movie: "I loved the wildly uneven Interstellar far more than I should have, but that doesn't mean it is perfect. Ultimately, the utter awe and spectacle of space swept me through the admittedly heavy-handed plotting and dialogue."

Step 3 Support your opinions with evidence from specific scenes.

  • Great: "Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer's chemistry would carry Fruitvale Station even if the script wasn't as good. The mid-movie prison scene in particular, where the camera never leaves their faces, shows how much they can convey with nothing but their eyelids, the flashing tension of neck muscles, and a barely cracking voice."
  • Bad: " Jurassic World's biggest flaw, a complete lack of relatable female characters, is only further underscored by a laughably unrealistic shot of our heroine running away from a dinosaur – in heels."
  • Okay: "At the end of the day, Snowpiercer can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be. The attention to detail in fight scenes, where every weapon, lightbulb, and slick patch of ground is accounted for, doesn't translate to an ending that seems powerful but ultimately says little of substance."

Step 4 Create an original...

  • Does the film reflect on a current event or contemporary issue? It could be the director's way of engaging in a bigger conversation. Look for ways to relate the content of the film to the "real" world.
  • Does the film seem to have a message, or does it attempt to elicit a specific response or emotion from the audience? You could discuss whether or not it achieves its own goals.
  • Does the film connect with you on a personal level? You could write a review stemming from your own feelings and weave in some personal stories to make it interesting for your readers.

Composing Your Review

Step 1 Follow your thesis paragraph with a short plot summary.

  • When you name characters in your plot summary, list the actors' names directly afterward in parenthesis.
  • Find a place to mention the director's name and the full movie title.
  • If you feel you must discuss information that might "spoil" things for readers, warn them first.

Step 2 Start to talk about the film’s technical and artistic choices.

  • Cinematography: " Her is a world drenched in color, using bright, soft reds and oranges alongside calming whites and grays that both build, and slowly strip away, the feelings of love between the protagonists. Every frame feels like a painting worth sitting in."
  • Tone: "Despite the insane loneliness and high stakes of being stuck alone on Mars, The Martian's witty script keeps humor and excitement alive in every scene. Space may be dangerous and scary, but the joy of scientific discovery is intoxicating."
  • Music and Sound: " No Country For Old Men's bold decision to skip music entirely pays off in spades. The eerie silence of the desert, punctuated by the brief spells of violent, up-close-and-personal sound effects of hunter and hunted, keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat."
  • Acting: "While he's fantastic whenever he's on the move, using his cool stoicism to counteract the rampaging bus, Keanu Reeves can't quite match his costar in the quiet moments of Speed, which falter under his expressionless gaze."

Step 3 Move into your...

  • Keep your writing clear and easy to understand. Don't use too much technical filmmaking jargon, and make your language crisp and accessible.
  • Present both the facts and your opinion. For example, you might state something such as, "The Baroque background music was a jarring contrast to the 20th century setting." This is a lot more informative then simply saying, "The music was a strange choice for the movie."

Step 4 Use plenty of examples to back up your points.

  • Great: "In the end, even the characters of Blue Ruin know how pointless their feud is. But revenge, much like every taut minute of this thriller, is far too addictive to give up until the bitter end.""
  • Bad: "Much like the oft-mentioned "box of chocolates", Forest Gump has a couple of good little morsels. But most of the scenes, too sweet by half, should have been in the trash long before this movie was put out."
  • Okay: "Without the novel, even revolutionary concept, Boyhood may not be a great movie. It might not even be "good.” But the power the film finds in the beauty of passing time and little, inconsequential moments – moments that could only be captured over 12 years of shooting – make Linklater's latest an essential film for anyone interested in the art of film."

Polishing Your Piece

Step 1 Edit your review.

  • Ask yourself whether your review stayed true to your thesis. Did your conclusion tie back in with the initial ideas you proposed?
  • Decide whether your review contains enough details about the movie. You may need to go back and add more description here and there to give readers a better sense of what the movie's about.
  • Decide whether your review is interesting enough as a stand-alone piece of writing. Did you contribute something original to this discussion? What will readers gain from reading your review that they couldn't from simply watching the movie?

Step 2 Proofread your review.

Studying Your Source Material

Step 1 Gather basic facts about the movie.

  • The title of the film, and the year it came out.
  • The director's name.
  • The names of the lead actors.

Step 2 Take notes on the movie as you watch it.

  • Make a note every time something sticks out to you, whether it's good or bad. This could be costuming, makeup, set design, music, etc. Think about how this detail relates to the rest of the movie and what it means in the context of your review.
  • Take note of patterns you begin to notice as the movie unfolds.
  • Use the pause button frequently so you make sure not to miss anything, and rewind as necessary.

Step 3 Analyze the mechanics of the movie.

  • Direction: Consider the director and how he or she choose to portray/explain the events in the story. If the movie was slow, or didn't include things you thought were necessary, you can attribute this to the director. If you've seen other movies directed by the same person, compare them and determine which you like the most.
  • Cinematography: What techniques were used to film the movie? What setting and background elements helped to create a certain tone?
  • Writing: Evaluate the script, including dialogue and characterization. Did you feel like the plot was inventive and unpredictable or boring and weak? Did the characters' words seem credible to you?
  • Editing: Was the movie choppy or did it flow smoothly from scene to scene? Did they incorporate a montage to help build the story? And was this obstructive to the narrative or did it help it? Did they use long cuts to help accentuate an actor's acting ability or many reaction shots to show a group's reaction to an event or dialogue? If visual effects were used were the plates well-chosen and were the composited effects part of a seamless experience? (Whether the effects looked realistic or not is not the jurisdiction of an editor, however, they do choose the footage to be sent off to the compositors, so this could still affect the film.)
  • Costume design: Did the clothing choices fit the style of the movie? Did they contribute to the overall tone, rather than digressing from it?
  • Set design: Consider how the setting of the film influenced its other elements. Did it add or subtract from the experience for you? If the movie was filmed in a real place, was this location well-chosen?
  • Score or soundtrack: Did it work with the scenes? Was it over/under-used? Was it suspenseful? Amusing? Irritating? A soundtrack can make or break a movie, especially if the songs have a particular message or meaning to them.

Step 4 Watch it one more time.

Community Q&A

wikiHow Staff Editor

  • If you don't like the movie, don't be abusive and mean. If possible, avoid watching the movies that you would surely hate. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 1
  • Understand that just because the movie isn't to your taste, that doesn't mean you should give it a bad review. A good reviewer helps people find movie's they will like. Since you don't have the same taste in movies as everyone else, you need to be able to tell people if they will enjoy the movie, even if you didn't. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Structure is very important; try categorizing the different parts of the film and commenting on each of those individually. Deciding how good each thing is will help you come to a more accurate conclusion. For example, things like acting, special effects, cinematography, think about how good each of those are. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

essay review film

You Might Also Like

Write an Article Review

  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/writing_about_film/terminology_and_starting_prompts.html
  • ↑ https://www.spiritofbaraka.com/how-write-a-movie-review
  • ↑ https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/9-tips-for-writing-a-film-review/
  • ↑ https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/writing-help/top-tips-for-writing-a-review
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/summary-using-it-wisely/
  • ↑ https://twp.duke.edu/sites/twp.duke.edu/files/file-attachments/film-review-1.original.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.dailywritingtips.com/7-tips-for-writing-a-film-review/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/writing_about_film/film_writing_sample_analysis.html
  • ↑ https://learning.hccs.edu/faculty/onnyx.bei/dual-credit/movie-review-writing-guide
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/conclusions/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/how-to-write-a-movie-review/
  • ↑ https://gustavus.edu/writingcenter/handoutdocs/editing_proofreading.php
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://edusson.com/blog/how-to-write-movie-review

About This Article

To write a movie review, start with a compelling fact or opinion to hook your readers, like "Despite a great performance by Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump never overcomes its weak plot." Then, elaborate on your opinion of the movie right off the bat so readers know where you stand. Once your opinion is clear, provide examples from the movie that prove your point, like specific scenes, dialogue, songs, or camera shots. To learn how to study a film closely before you write a review, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Did this article help you?

essay review film

Featured Articles

Calculate Your Name Number in Numerology

Trending Articles

View an Eclipse

Watch Articles

Make Sticky Rice Using Regular Rice

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

Get all the best how-tos!

Sign up for wikiHow's weekly email newsletter

Breakout English

Breakout English Logo (1)

How to write a film review

Writing a review is an option in many different English language exams, and films are such an obvious choice for reviews, so knowing how to write a film review is pretty important. It’s a great topic for the classroom too. Everyone watches films and there is a lot of opportunity to teach vocabulary, either film-related vocabulary or film review adjectives. I like to start off a class about films with some chat, or my personal favourite, the Movie Music Quiz , which also now has an excellent Movie Picture Quiz version too.

awesome review

The structure of a film review

Like any writing task, it’s essential to know the structure of a film review before you start writing. A basic film review template shows you how to write a film review using a simple structure. Film reviews for First (FCE) and Advanced (CAE) Cambridge exams, as well as Trinity ISE exams, should all use a 4 paragraph structure. Another thing to remember is that your review should always have a title, and that title should include the name of the film.

  • Introduction – Essential details and mini-summary
  • Summary – A description of the film and some important details
  • Analysis – An evaluation of different elements
  • Conclusion – Your opinion and a recommendation

Introduction

In the introduction of a film review, it is crucial to mention the film title and the names of the director and the main actors. A brief summary of the film’s plot and background information can also be included, but it should not give away too much detail. The introduction should engage the reader and entice them to continue reading the review. Additionally, it is important to mention the genre and target audience of the film, which will give the reader an idea of what to expect.

In the summary section, the film review should give a comprehensive but concise description of the film, focusing on the plot, characters, and any significant events. The summary should be written in a way that does not give away the ending or spoil the film for the reader. It is important to maintain objectivity and not include personal opinions in this section. This section should provide enough detail for the reader to have a clear understanding of the film without giving too much away.

The analysis section is where the reviewer can showcase their critical skills and provide an in-depth evaluation of the film. The review should examine various elements of the film such as the script, direction, cinematography, acting, and special effects. You could also make a comparison to similar films in the same genre. The analysis should be written in an objective style with the opinion only showing through the language used.

In the conclusion, the reviewer should give their personal opinion of the film, summarising their thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses. They should also consider the target audience and whether they believe the film will appeal to them. Finally, the reviewer should provide a clear recommendation. The conclusion should be concise, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the reviewer’s overall opinion of the film.

Using adjectives in reviews

Reviews are a great way to show off your language with impressive adjectives. If you read a film review in a newspaper or magazine, you’ll notice that the reviewer rarely, if ever, gives an explicit direct opinion. However, their opinion of the film is always crystal clear. This is through the use of adjectives.

Many adjectives have a clear connotation. They are either perceived as positive or negative. Compare these two examples. Which one is a positive description and which is negative?

  • It’s a first-rate experience with an imaginative plot and a star-studded cast.
  • The second-rate writing combined with weak performances is typical of this director’s work.

When using adjectives in a film review, it is important to choose words that accurately convey the reviewer’s opinion. Adjectives with strong connotations, either positive or negative, can be very effective in expressing the reviewer’s thoughts about the film. However, it is also important to use a variety of adjectives to avoid repetition and keep the review interesting. The use of adjectives can also help to paint a picture of the film, allowing the reader to get a sense of its atmosphere and tone.

The materials

Many exams, such as the Cambridge First (FCE) and Advanced (CAE) exams, as well as Trinity ISE exams, require students to write a film review as part of their writing task. These materials will provide students with a solid understanding of the structure of a film review and help them to develop their writing skills. This will give them the confidence they need to write a review that meets the requirements of the exam and impresses the examiner.

The materials will help you learn how to write an introduction, summary, analysis, and conclusion of a film review. You will also see a range of useful adjectives that you can use to express your opinions in their reviews. Finally, you will get an opportunity to practise writing film reviews, which will help you to develop your skills. Then you can check your answers with the samples provided in the answer key. Whether you’re preparing for an exam or just looking to improve your writing skills, these materials will provide you with everything you need to write a great film review.

how to write a film review 1

1 thought on “How to write a film review”

' src=

Interesting and useful material to be used in class. thanks!

Comments are closed.

Breakout English

Search form

Film review.

Look at the film review and do the exercises to improve your writing skills.

Instructions

Do the preparation exercise first. Then do the other exercises.

Preparation

Film review

Check your understanding: multiple choice

Check your understanding: grouping, worksheets and downloads.

What's your favourite film? Why do you like it?

essay review film

Sign up to our newsletter for LearnEnglish Teens

We will process your data to send you our newsletter and updates based on your consent. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of every email. Read our privacy policy for more information.

How Can I Write an Essay About a Movie? Image

How Can I Write an Essay About a Movie?

By Film Threat Staff | May 23, 2023

Watching movies for a long time has been a major past-time for most individuals. The people expect to sit in front of their screens and get thrilled into a world of adventure, mystery, and wonder.

But how can you gauge your appreciation and understanding of filmmaking? Writing an essay about a movie is one way of showing your grasp of the content.

Movie analysis is a common assignment for most college students. It is an intricate task where every detail matters while tied together to form a part of the story.

A part of the assignment involves watching a particular movie and writing an essay about your overall impression of the movie.

Essay writing services such as WriteMyEssay show that more than rewatching a movie several times is needed to make up for a solid movie analysis essay. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to write your movie analysis:

What Is a Movie Essay?

essay review film

The world of literature is multifaceted while testing different attributes of students. A movie analysis essay, at its core, seeks to uncover the hidden layers of meaning within the cinema world.

A movie analysis essay is much more than a movie review that seeks to delve into the artistry behind filmmaking. Thus, it seeks to test a student’s prowess in understanding various elements that come together to form a meaningful cinematic experience.

The main purpose of movie analysis essays is to dissect different components employed by a film in making a unique and impactful storyline.

Students can appreciate the filmmaking process’s complexities by analyzing these different elements. Also, students can develop a keen eye for the nuances that elevate a movie from entertainment to a work of art.

Here are top tips by experts when writing an essay about a particular movie during your assignments:

1. Watch the Movie

The first obvious standpoint for writing an essay about any movie is watching the film. Watching the movie builds an important foundation for the writing exercise. Composing an insightful, compelling, and well-thought movie essay requires you to experience it.

Therefore, select an appropriate environment to watch the movie free from distractions. Moreover, immerse yourself in the full movie experience to absorb all the intricate details. Some critical elements to note down include:

  • Characterization
  • Cinematography

We recommend watching the movie several times in case the time element allows. Rewatching the film deepens your understanding of the movie while uncovering unnoticed details on the first take.

2. Write an Introduction

The introductory paragraph to your movie essay should contain essential details of the movie, such as:

  • Release date
  • Name of the director
  • Main actors

Moreover, start with a captivating hook to entice readers to keep reading. You can start with a memorable quote from one of the characters.

For example, released in 1976 and Directed by Martin Scorsese, ‘The Taxi Driver’ starring Robert De Niro as the eccentric taxi driver.’

essay review film

After writing an enticing introduction, it is time to summarize what you watched. A summary provides readers with a clear understanding of the movie’s plot and main events. Hence, your readers can have a foundation for the rest of your movie essay.

Writing a summary need to be concise. The entire movie essay should be brief and straight to the point. Ensure to capture the main arguments within the movie’s plot. However, avoid going into too many details. Just focus on giving concise information about the movie.

4. Start Writing

The next vital part is forming the analysis part. This is where the analysis delves deeply into the movie’s themes, cinematography, characters, and other related elements.

First, start by organizing your analysis clearly and logically. Each section or paragraph should concentrate on a particular aspect of the film. Ensure to incorporate important elements such as cinematography, character development, and symbolism.

In addition, analyze different techniques employed by filmmakers. Take note of stylistic choices, including editing, sound, cinematography, imagery, and allegory. This helps contribute to the overall impact and meaning.

Lastly, connect your analysis to the thesis statement. Ensure all arguments captured in your analysis tie together to the main argument. It should maintain a straight focus throughout your essay.

Remember to re-state your thesis while summarizing previously mentioned arguments innovatively and creatively when finishing up your movie essay. Lastly, you can recommend your reader to watch the movie.

Final Takeaway

The writing process should be a fun, demanding, and engaging assignment. Try these tips from experts in structuring and logically organizing your essay.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Murder Mystery 2 image

Murder Mystery 2

NOW ON NETFLIX! The road of excess leads to the palace of popcorn butter in director Jeremy Garelick's sumptuous sequel Murder Mystery 2. The screenplay...

A Story of Survival in Rural Thailand image

A Story of Survival in Rural Thailand

 Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai (Thai Boxing), is among the most popular sports in the country and is an integral part of modern MMA fighting....

Netflix Series: Hurts Like Hell image

Netflix Series: Hurts Like Hell

If you're looking for a unique blend of drama inspired by true events and a documentary-style series about sports, Netflix’s "Hurts Like Hell" is...

Line of Fire image

Line of Fire

Anti-heroes come in all different forms, but my favorite has to be The Punisher, best represented on screen thus far by the Netflix series starring Jon...

You People image

NOW ON NETFLIX! You People stars Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, Nia Long, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with Hill serving as producer. He also wrote the screenplay...

Nollywood: The World’s Fastest-Growing Film Industry image

Nollywood: The World’s Fastest-Growing Film Industry

With over $6.4 billion in revenue and more than 2,500 movies per year, Nigeria’s film industry is taking the world by storm. Nollywood, the Nigerian film...

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Text size: A A A

About the BFI

Strategy and policy

Press releases and media enquiries

Jobs and opportunities

Join and support

Become a Member

Become a Patron

Using your BFI Membership

Corporate support

Trusts and foundations

Make a donation

Watch films on BFI Player

BFI Southbank tickets

BFI - homepage

  • Follow @bfi

Watch and discover

In this section

Watch at home on BFI Player

What’s on at BFI Southbank

What’s on at BFI IMAX

BFI National Archive

Explore our festivals

BFI film releases

Read features and reviews

Read film comment from Sight & Sound

I want to…

Watch films online

Browse BFI Southbank seasons

Book a film for my cinema

Find out about international touring programmes

Learning and training

BFI Film Academy: opportunities for young creatives

Get funding to progress my creative career

Find resources and events for teachers

Join events and activities for families

BFI Reuben Library

Search the BFI National Archive collections

Browse our education events

Use film and TV in my classroom

Read research data and market intelligence

Funding and industry

Get funding and support

Search for projects funded by National Lottery

Apply for British certification and tax relief

Industry data and insights

Inclusion in the film industry

Find projects backed by the BFI

Get help as a new filmmaker and find out about NETWORK

Read industry research and statistics

Find out about booking film programmes internationally

You are here

essay review film

The essay film

In recent years the essay film has attained widespread recognition as a particular category of film practice, with its own history and canonical figures and texts. In tandem with a major season throughout August at London’s BFI Southbank, Sight & Sound explores the characteristics that have come to define this most elastic of forms and looks in detail at a dozen influential milestone essay films.

Andrew Tracy , Katy McGahan , Geoff Andrew , Olaf Möller , Sergio Wolf , Nina Power Updated: 7 May 2019

essay review film

from our August 2013 issue

Le camera stylo? Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Le camera stylo? Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

I recently had a heated argument with a cinephile filmmaking friend about Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (1983). Having recently completed her first feature, and with such matters on her mind, my friend contended that the film’s power lay in its combinations of image and sound, irrespective of Marker’s inimitable voiceover narration. “Do you think that people who can’t understand English or French will get nothing out of the film?” she said; to which I – hot under the collar – replied that they might very well get something, but that something would not be the complete work.

essay review film

The Sight & Sound Deep Focus season Thought in Action: The Art of the Essay Film runs at BFI Southbank 1-28 August 2013, with a keynote lecture by Kodwo Eshun on 1 August, a talk by writer and academic Laura Rascaroli on 27 August and a closing panel debate on 28 August.

To take this film-lovers’ tiff to a more elevated plane, what it suggests is that the essentialist conception of cinema is still present in cinephilic and critical culture, as are the difficulties of containing within it works that disrupt its very fabric. Ever since Vachel Lindsay published The Art of the Moving Picture in 1915 the quest to secure the autonomy of film as both medium and art – that ever-elusive ‘pure cinema’ – has been a preoccupation of film scholars, critics, cinephiles and filmmakers alike. My friend’s implicit derogation of the irreducible literary element of Sans soleil and her neo- Godard ian invocation of ‘image and sound’ touch on that strain of this phenomenon which finds, in the technical-functional combination of those two elements, an alchemical, if not transubstantiational, result.

Mechanically created, cinema defies mechanism: it is poetic, transportive and, if not irrational, then a-rational. This mystically-minded view has a long and illustrious tradition in film history, stretching from the sense-deranging surrealists – who famously found accidental poetry in the juxtapositions created by randomly walking into and out of films; to the surrealist-influenced, scientifically trained and ontologically minded André Bazin , whose realist veneration of the long take centred on the very preternaturalness of nature as revealed by the unblinking gaze of the camera; to the trash-bin idolatry of the American underground, weaving new cinematic mythologies from Hollywood detritus; and to auteurism itself, which (in its more simplistic iterations) sees the essence of the filmmaker inscribed even upon the most compromised of works.

It isn’t going too far to claim that this tradition has constituted the foundation of cinephilic culture and helped to shape the cinematic canon itself. If Marker has now been welcomed into that canon and – thanks to the far greater availability of his work – into the mainstream of (primarily DVD-educated) cinephilia, it is rarely acknowledged how much of that work cheerfully undercuts many of the long-held assumptions and pieties upon which it is built.

In his review of Letter from Siberia (1957), Bazin placed Marker at right angles to cinema proper, describing the film’s “primary material” as intelligence – specifically a “verbal intelligence” – rather than image. He dubbed Marker’s method a “horizontal” montage, “as opposed to traditional montage that plays with the sense of duration through the relationship of shot to shot”.

Here, claimed Bazin, “a given image doesn’t refer to the one that preceded it or the one that will follow, but rather it refers laterally, in some way, to what is said.” Thus the very thing which makes Letter “extraordinary”, in Bazin’s estimation, is also what makes it not-cinema. Looking for a term to describe it, Bazin hit upon a prophetic turn of phrase, writing that Marker’s film is, “to borrow Jean Vigo’s formulation of À propos de Nice (‘a documentary point of view’), an essay documented by film. The important word is ‘essay’, understood in the same sense that it has in literature – an essay at once historical and political, written by a poet as well.”

Marker’s canonisation has proceeded apace with that of the form of which he has become the exemplar. Whether used as critical/curatorial shorthand in reviews and programme notes, employed as a model by filmmakers or examined in theoretical depth in major retrospectives (this summer’s BFI Southbank programme, for instance, follows upon Andréa Picard’s two-part series ‘The Way of the Termite’ at TIFF Cinémathèque in 2009-2010, which drew inspiration from Jean-Pierre Gorin ’s groundbreaking programme of the same title at Vienna Filmmuseum in 2007), the ‘essay film’ has attained in recent years widespread recognition as a particular, if perennially porous, mode of film practice. An appealingly simple formulation, the term has proved both taxonomically useful and remarkably elastic, allowing one to define a field of previously unassimilable objects while ranging far and wide throughout film history to claim other previously identified objects for this invented tradition.

Las Hurdes (1933)

Las Hurdes (1933)

It is crucial to note that the ‘essay film’ is not only a post-facto appellation for a kind of film practice that had not bothered to mark itself with a moniker, but also an invention and an intervention. While it has acquired its own set of canonical ‘texts’ that include the collected works of Marker, much of Godard – from the missive (the 52-minute Letter to Jane , 1972) to the massive ( Histoire(s) de cinéma , 1988-98) – Welles’s F for Fake (1973) and Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), it has also poached on the territory of other, ‘sovereign’ forms, expanding its purview in accordance with the whims of its missionaries.

From documentary especially, Vigo’s aforementioned À propos de Nice, Ivens’s Rain (1929), Buñuel’s sardonic Las Hurdes (1933), Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955), Rouch and Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer (1961); from the avant garde, Akerman’s Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974), Straub/Huillet’s Trop tôt, trop tard (1982); from agitprop, Getino and Solanas’s The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), Portabella’s Informe general… (1976); and even from ‘pure’ fiction, for example Gorin’s provocative selection of Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat (1909).

Just as within itself the essay film presents, in the words of Gorin, “the meandering of an intelligence that tries to multiply the entries and the exits into the material it has elected (or by which it has been elected),” so, without, its scope expands exponentially through the industrious activity of its adherents, blithely cutting across definitional borders and – as per the Manny Farber ian concept which gave Gorin’s ‘Termite’ series its name –  creating meaning precisely by eating away at its own boundaries. In the scope of its application and its association more with an (amorphous) sensibility as opposed to fixed rules, the essay film bears similarities to the most famous of all fabricated genres: film noir, which has been located both in its natural habitat of the crime thriller as well as in such disparate climates as melodramas, westerns and science fiction.

The essay film, however, has proved even more peripatetic: where noir was formulated from the films of a determinate historical period (no matter that the temporal goalposts are continually shifted), the essay film is resolutely unfixed in time; it has its choice of forebears. And while noir, despite its occasional shadings over into semi-documentary during the 1940s, remains bound to fictional narratives, the essay film moves blithely between the realms of fiction and non-fiction, complicating the terms of both.

“Here is a form that seems to accommodate the two sides of that divide at the same time, that can navigate from documentary to fiction and back, creating other polarities in the process between which it can operate,” writes Gorin. When Orson Welles , in the closing moments of his masterful meditation on authenticity and illusion F for Fake, chortles, “I did promise that for one hour, I’d tell you only the truth. For the past 17 minutes, I’ve been lying my head off,” he is expressing both the conjuror’s pleasure in a trick well played and the artist’s delight in a self-defined mode that is cheerfully impure in both form and, perhaps, intention.

Nevertheless, as the essay film merrily traipses through celluloid history it intersects with ‘pure cinema’ at many turns and its form as such owes much to one particularly prominent variety thereof.

The montage tradition

If the mystical strain described above represents the Dionysian side of pure cinema, Soviet montage was its Apollonian opposite: randomness, revelation and sensuous response countered by construction, forceful argumentation and didactic instruction.

No less than the mystics, however, the montagists were after essences. Eisenstein , Dziga Vertov and Pudovkin , along with their transnational associates and acolytes, sought to crystallise abstract concepts in the direct and purposeful juxtaposition of forceful, hard-edged images – the general made powerfully, viscerally immediate in the particular. Here, says Eisenstein, in the umbrella-wielding harpies who set upon the revolutionaries in October (1928), is bourgeois Reaction made manifest; here, in the serried ranks of soldiers proceeding as one down the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin (1925), is Oppression undisguised; here, in the condemned Potemkin sailor who wins over his imminent executioners with a cry of “Brothers!” – a moment powerfully invoked by Marker at the beginning of his magnum opus A Grin Without a Cat (1977) – is Solidarity emergent and, from it, the seeds of Revolution.

The relentlessly unidirectional focus of classical Soviet montage puts it methodologically and temperamentally at odds with the ruminative, digressive and playful qualities we associate with the essay film. So, too, the former’s fierce ideological certainty and cadre spirit contrast with that free play of the mind, the Montaigne -inspired meanderings of individual intelligence, that so characterise our image of the latter.

Beyond Marker’s personal interest in and inheritance from the Soviet masters, classical montage laid the foundations of the essay film most pertinently in its foregrounding of the presence, within the fabric of the film, of a directing intelligence. Conducting their experiments in film not through ‘pure’ abstraction but through narrative, the montagists made manifest at least two operative levels within the film: the narrative itself and the arrangement of that narrative by which the deeper structures that move it are made legible. Against the seamless, immersive illusionism of commercial cinema, montage was a key for decrypting those social forces, both overt and hidden, that govern human society.

And as such it was method rather than material that was the pathway to truth. Fidelity to the authentic – whether the accurate representation of historical events or the documentary flavouring of Eisensteinian typage – was important only insomuch as it provided the filmmaker with another tool to reach a considerably higher plane of reality.

Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm (1931)

Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm (1931)

Midway on their Marxian mission to change the world rather than interpret it, the montagists actively made the world even as they revealed it. In doing so they powerfully expressed the dialectic between control and chaos that would come to be not only one of the chief motors of the essay film but the crux of modernity itself.

Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), now claimed as the most venerable and venerated ancestor of the essay film (and this despite its prototypically purist claim to realise a ‘universal’ cinematic language “based on its complete separation from the language of literature and the theatre”) is the archetypal model of this high-modernist agon. While it is the turning of the movie projector itself and the penetrating gaze of Vertov’s kino-eye that sets the whirling dynamo of the city into motion, the recorder creating that which it records, that motion is also outside its control.

At the dawn of the cinematic century, the American writer Henry Adams saw in the dynamo both the expression of human mastery over nature and a conduit to mysterious, elemental powers beyond our comprehension. So, too, the modernist ambition expressed in literature, painting, architecture and cinema to capture a subject from all angles – to exhaust its wealth of surfaces, meanings, implications, resonances – collides with awe (or fear) before a plenitude that can never be encompassed.

Remove the high-modernist sense of mission and we can see this same dynamic as animating the essay film – recall that last, parenthetical term in Gorin’s formulation of the essay film, “multiply[ing] the entries and the exits into the material it has elected (or by which it has been elected)”. The nimble movements and multi-angled perspectives of the essay film are founded on this negotiation between active choice and passive possession; on the recognition that even the keenest insight pales in the face of an ultimate unknowability.

The other key inheritance the essay film received from the classical montage tradition, perhaps inevitably, was a progressive spirit, however variously defined. While Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) and Olympia (1938) amply and chillingly demonstrated that montage, like any instrumental apparatus, has no inherent ideological nature, hers were more the exceptions that proved the rule. (Though why, apart from ideological repulsiveness, should Riefenstahl’s plentifully fabricated ‘documentaries’ not be considered as essay films in their own right?)

The overwhelming fact remains that the great majority of those who drew upon the Soviet montagists for explicitly ideological ends (as opposed to Hollywood’s opportunistic swipings) resided on the left of the spectrum – and, in the montagists’ most notable successor in the period immediately following, retained their alignment with and inextricability from the state.

Progressive vs radical

The Grierson ian documentary movement in Britain neutered the political and aesthetic radicalism of its more dynamic model in favour of paternalistic progressivism founded on conformity, class complacency and snobbery towards its own medium. But if it offered a far paler antecedent to the essay film than the Soviet montage tradition, it nevertheless represents an important stage in the evolution of the essay-film form, for reasons not unrelated to some of those rather staid qualities.

The Soviet montagists had created a vision of modernity racing into the future at pace with the social and spiritual liberation of its proletarian pilot-passenger, an aggressively public ideology of group solidarity. The Grierson school, by contrast, offered a domesticated image of an efficient, rational and productive modern industrial society based on interconnected but separate public and private spheres, as per the ideological values of middle-class liberal individualism.

The Soviet montagists had looked to forge a universal, ‘pure’ cinematic language, at least before the oppressive dictates of Stalinist socialist realism shackled them. The Grierson school, evincing a middle-class disdain for the popular and ‘low’ arts, sought instead to purify the sullied medium of cinema by importing extra-cinematic prestige: most notably Night Mail (1936), with its Auden -penned, Britten -scored ode to the magic of the mail, or Humphrey Jennings’s salute to wartime solidarity A Diary for Timothy (1945), with its mildly sententious E.M. Forster narration.

Night Mail (1936)

Night Mail (1936)

What this domesticated dynamism and retrograde pursuit of high-cultural bona fides achieved, however, was to mingle a newfound cinematic language (montage) with a traditionally literary one (narration); and, despite the salutes to state-oriented communality, to re-introduce the individual, idiosyncratic voice as the vehicle of meaning – as the mediating intelligence that connects the viewer to the images viewed.

In Night Mail especially there is, in the whimsy of the Auden text and the film’s synchronisation of private time and public history, an intimation of the essay film’s musing, reflective voice as the chugging rhythm of the narration timed to the speeding wheels of the train gives way to a nocturnal vision of solitary dreamers bedevilled by spectral monsters, awakening in expectation of the postman’s knock with a “quickening of the heart/for who can bear to be forgot?”

It’s a curiously disquieting conclusion: this unsettling, anxious vision of disappearance that takes on an even darker shade with the looming spectre of war – one that rhymes, five decades on, with the wistful search of Marker’s narrator in Sans soleil, seeking those fleeting images which “quicken the heart” in a world where wars both past and present have been forgotten, subsumed in a modern society built upon the systematic banishment of memory.

It is, of course, with the seminal post-war collaborations between Marker and Alain Resnais that the essay film proper emerges. In contrast to the striving culture-snobbery of the Griersonian documentary, the Resnais-Marker collaborations (and the Resnais solo documentary shorts that preceded them) inaugurate a blithe, seemingly effortless dialogue between cinema and the other arts in both their subjects (painting, sculpture) and their assorted creative personnel (writers Paul Éluard , Jean Cayrol , Raymond Queneau , composers Darius Milhaud and Hanns Eisler ). This also marks the point where the revolutionary line of the Soviets and the soft, statist liberalism of the British documentarians give way to a more free-floating but staunchly oppositional leftism, one derived as much from a spirit of humanistic inquiry as from ideological affiliation.

Related to this was the form’s problems with official patronage. Originally conceived as commissions by various French government or government-affiliated bodies, the Resnais-Marker films famously ran into trouble from French censors: Les statues meurent aussi (1953) for its condemnation of French colonialism, Night and Fog for its shots of Vichy policemen guarding deportation camps; the former film would have its second half lopped off before being cleared for screening, the latter its offending shots removed.

Night and Fog (1955)

Night and Fog (1955)

Appropriately, it is at this moment that the emphasis of the essay film begins to shift away from tactile presence – the whirl of the city, the rhythm of the rain, the workings of industry – to felt absence. The montagists had marvelled at the workings of human creations which raced ahead irrespective of human efforts; here, the systems created by humanity to master the world write, in their very functioning, an epitaph for those things extinguished in the act of mastering them. The African masks preserved in the Musée de l’Homme in Les statues meurent aussi speak of a bloody legacy of vanquished and conquered civilisations; the labyrinthine archival complex of the Bibliothèque Nationale in the sardonically titled Toute la mémoire du monde (1956) sparks a disquisition on all that is forgotten in the act of cataloguing knowledge; the miracle of modern plastics saluted in the witty, industrially commissioned Le Chant du styrène (1958) regresses backwards to its homely beginnings; in Night and Fog an unprecedentedly enormous effort of human organisation marshals itself to actively produce a dreadful, previously unimaginable nullity.

To overstate the case, loss is the primary motor of the modern essay film: loss of belief in the image’s ability to faithfully reflect reality; loss of faith in the cinema’s ability to capture life as it is lived; loss of illusions about cinema’s ‘purity’, its autonomy from the other arts or, for that matter, the world.

“You never know what you may be filming,” notes one of Marker’s narrating surrogates in A Grin Without a Cat, as footage of the Chilean equestrian team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics offers a glimpse of a future member of the Pinochet junta. The image and sound captured at the time of filming offer one facet of reality; it is only with this lateral move outside that reality that the future reality it conceals can speak.

What will distinguish the essay film, as Bazin noted, is not only its ability to make the image but also its ability to interrogate it, to dispel the illusion of its sovereignty and see it as part of a matrix of meaning that extends beyond the screen. No less than were the montagists, the film-essayists seek the motive forces of modern society not by crystallising eternal verities in powerful images but by investigating that ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic relationship between our regime of images and the realities it both reveals and occludes.

— Andrew Tracy

1.   À propos de Nice

Jean Vigo, 1930

Few documentaries have achieved the cult status of the 22-minute A propos de Nice, co-directed by Jean Vigo and cameraman Boris Kaufman at the beginning of their careers. The film retains a spontaneous, apparently haphazard, quality yet its careful montage combines a strong realist drive, lyrical dashes – helped by Marc Perrone’s accordion music – and a clear political agenda.

In today’s era, in which the Côte d’Azur has become a byword for hedonistic consumption, it’s refreshing to see a film that systematically undermines its glossy surface. Using images sometimes ‘stolen’ with hidden cameras, A propos de Nice moves between the city’s main sites of pleasure: the Casino, the Promenade des Anglais, the Hotel Negresco and the carnival. Occasionally the filmmakers remind us of the sea, the birds, the wind in the trees but mostly they contrast people: the rich play tennis, the poor boules; the rich have tea, the poor gamble in the (then) squalid streets of the Old Town.

As often, women bear the brunt of any critique of bourgeois consumption: a rich old woman’s head is compared to an ostrich, others grin as they gaze up at phallic factory chimneys; young women dance frenetically, their crotch to the camera. In the film’s most famous image, an elegant woman is ‘stripped’ by the camera to reveal her naked body – not quite matched by a man’s shoes vanishing to display his naked feet to the shoe-shine.

An essay film avant la lettre , A propos de Nice ends on Soviet-style workers’ faces and burning furnaces. The message is clear, even if it has not been heeded by history.

— Ginette Vincendeau

2. A Diary for Timothy

Humphrey Jennings, 1945

A Diary for Timothy takes the form of a journal addressed to the eponymous Timothy James Jenkins, born on 3 September 1944, exactly five years after Britain’s entry into World War II. The narrator, Michael Redgrave , a benevolent offscreen presence, informs young Timothy about the momentous events since his birth and later advises that, even when the war is over, there will be “everyday danger”.

The subjectivity and speculative approach maintained throughout are more akin to the essay tradition than traditional propaganda in their rejection of mere glib conveyance of information or thunderous hectoring. Instead Jennings invites us quietly to observe the nuances of everyday life as Britain enters the final chapter of the war. Against the momentous political backdrop, otherwise routine, everyday activities are ascribed new profundity as the Welsh miner Geronwy, Alan the farmer, Bill the railway engineer and Peter the convalescent fighter pilot go about their daily business.

Within the confines of the Ministry of Information’s remit – to lift the spirits of a battle-weary nation – and the loose narrative framework of Timothy’s first six months, Jennings finds ample expression for the kind of formal experiment that sets his work apart from that of other contemporary documentarians. He worked across film, painting, photography, theatrical design, journalism and poetry; in Diary his protean spirit finds expression in a manner that transgresses the conventional parameters of wartime propaganda, stretching into film poem, philosophical reflection, social document, surrealistic ethnographic observation and impressionistic symphony. Managing to keep to the right side of sentimentality, it still makes for potent viewing.

— Catherine McGahan

3. Toute la mémoire du monde

Alain Resnais, 1956

In the opening credits of Toute la mémoire du monde, alongside the director’s name and that of producer Pierre Braunberger , one reads the mysterious designation “Groupe des XXX”. This Group of Thirty was an assembly of filmmakers who mobilised in the early 1950s to defend the “style, quality and ambitious subject matter” of short films in post-war France; the signatories of its 1953 ‘Declaration’ included Resnais , Chris Marker and Agnès Varda. The success of the campaign contributed to a golden age of short filmmaking that would last a decade and form the crucible of the French essay film.

A 22-minute poetic documentary about the old French Bibliothèque Nationale, Toute la mémoire du monde is a key work in this strand of filmmaking and one which can also be seen as part of a loose ‘trilogy of memory’ in Resnais’s early documentaries. Les statues meurent aussi (co-directed with Chris Marker) explored cultural memory as embodied in African art and the depredations of colonialism; Night and Fog was a seminal reckoning with the historical memory of the Nazi death camps. While less politically controversial than these earlier works, Toute la mémoire du monde’s depiction of the Bibliothèque Nationale is still oddly suggestive of a prison, with its uniformed guards and endless corridors. In W.G. Sebald ’s 2001 novel Austerlitz, directly after a passage dedicated to Resnais’s film, the protagonist describes his uncertainty over whether, when using the library, he “was on the Islands of the Blest, or, on the contrary, in a penal colony”.

Resnais explores the workings of the library through the effective device of following a book from arrival and cataloguing to its delivery to a reader (the book itself being something of an in-joke: a mocked-up travel guide to Mars in the Petite Planète series Marker was then editing for Editions du Seuil). With Resnais’s probing, mobile camerawork and a commentary by French writer Remo Forlani, Toute la mémoire du monde transforms the library into a mysterious labyrinth, something between an edifice and an organism: part brain and part tomb.

— Chris Darke

4. The House is Black

(Khaneh siah ast) Forough Farrokhzad, 1963

Before the House of Makhmalbaf there was The House is Black. Called “the greatest of all Iranian films” by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who helped translate the subtitles from Farsi into English, this 20-minute black-and-white essay film by feminist poet Farrokhzad was shot in a leper colony near Tabriz in northern Iran and has been heralded as the touchstone of the Iranian New Wave.

The buildings of the Baba Baghi colony are brick and peeling whitewash but a student asked to write a sentence using the word ‘house’ offers Khaneh siah ast : the house is black. His hand, seen in close-up, is one of many in the film; rather than objects of medical curiosity, these hands – some fingerless, many distorted by the disease – are agents, always in movement, doing, making, exercising, praying. In putting white words on the blackboard, the student makes part of the film; in the next shots, the film’s credits appear, similarly handwritten on the same blackboard.

As they negotiate the camera’s gaze and provide the soundtrack by singing, stamping and wheeling a barrow, the lepers are co-authors of the film. Farrokhzad echoes their prayers, heard and seen on screen, with her voiceover, which collages religious texts, beginning with the passage from Psalm 55 famously set to music by Mendelssohn (“O for the wings of a dove”).

In the conjunctions between Farrokhzad’s poetic narration and diegetic sound, including tanbur-playing, an intense assonance arises. Its beat is provided by uniquely lyrical associative editing that would influence Abbas Kiarostami , who quotes Farrokhzad’s poem ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ in his eponymous film . Repeated shots of familiar bodily movement, made musical, move the film insistently into the viewer’s body: it is infectious. Posing a question of aesthetics, The House Is Black uses the contagious gaze of cinema to dissolve the screen between Us and Them.

— Sophie Mayer

5. Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still

Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972

With its invocation of Brecht (“Uncle Bertolt”), rejection of visual pleasure (for 52 minutes we’re mostly looking at a single black-and-white still) and discussion of the role of intellectuals in “the revolution”, Letter to Jane is so much of its time as to appear untranslatable to the present except as a curio from a distant era of radical cinema. Between 1969 and 1971, Godard and Gorin made films collectively as part of the Dziga Vertov Group before they returned, in 1972, to the mainstream with Tout va bien , a big-budget film about the aftermath of May 1968 featuring leftist stars Yves Montand and  Jane Fonda . It was to the latter that Godard and Gorin directed their Letter after seeing a news photograph of her on a solidarity visit to North Vietnam in August 1972.

Intended to accompany the US release of Tout va bien, Letter to Jane is ‘a letter’ only in as much as it is fairly conversational in tone, with Godard and Gorin delivering their voiceovers in English. It’s stylistically more akin to the ‘blackboard films’ of the time, with their combination of pedagogical instruction and stern auto-critique.

It’s also an inspired semiological reading of a media image and a reckoning with the contradictions of celebrity activism. Godard and Gorin examine the image’s framing and camera angle and ask why Fonda is the ‘star’ of the photograph while the Vietnamese themselves remain faceless or out of focus? And what of her expression of compassionate concern? This “expression of an expression” they trace back, via an elaboration of the Kuleshov effect , through other famous faces – Henry Fonda , John Wayne , Lillian Gish and Falconetti – concluding that it allows for “no reverse shot” and serves only to bolster Western “good conscience”.

Letter to Jane is ultimately concerned with the same question that troubled philosophers such as Levinas and Derrida : what’s at stake ethically when one claims to speak “in place of the other”? Any contemporary critique of celebrity activism – from Bono and Geldof to Angelina Jolie – should start here, with a pair of gauchiste trolls muttering darkly beneath a press shot of ‘Hanoi Jane’.

6. F for Fake

Orson Welles, 1973

Those who insist it was all downhill for Orson Welles after Citizen Kane would do well to take a close look at this film made more than three decades later, in its own idiosyncratic way a masterpiece just as innovative as his better-known feature debut.

Perhaps the film’s comparative and undeserved critical neglect is due to its predominantly playful tone, or perhaps it’s because it is a low-budget, hard-to-categorise, deeply personal work that mixes original material with plenty of footage filmed by others – most extensively taken from a documentary by François Reichenbach about Clifford Irving and his bogus biography of his friend Elmyr de Hory , an art forger who claimed to have painted pictures attributed to famous names and hung in the world’s most prestigious galleries.

If the film had simply offered an account of the hoaxes perpetrated by that disreputable duo, it would have been entertaining enough but, by means of some extremely inventive, innovative and inspired editing, Welles broadens his study of fakery to take in his own history as a ‘charlatan’ – not merely his lifelong penchant for magician’s tricks but also the 1938 radio broadcast of his news-report adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds – as well as observations on Howard Hughes , Pablo Picasso and the anonymous builders of Chartres cathedral. So it is that Welles contrives to conjure up, behind a colourful cloak of consistently entertaining mischief, a rueful meditation on truth and falsehood, art and authorship – a subject presumably dear to his heart following Pauline Kael ’s then recent attempts to persuade the world that Herman J. Mankiewicz had been the real creative force behind Kane.

As a riposte to that thesis (albeit never framed as such), F for Fake is subtle, robust, supremely erudite and never once bitter; the darkest moment – as Welles contemplates the serene magnificence of Chartres – is at once an uncharacteristic but touchingly heartfelt display of humility and a poignant memento mori. And it is in this delicate balancing of the autobiographical with the universal, as well as in the dazzling deployment of cinematic form to illustrate and mirror content, that the film works its once unique, now highly influential magic.

— Geoff Andrew

7. How to Live in the German Federal Republic

(Leben – BRD) Harun Farocki, 1990

essay review film

Harun Farocki ’s portrait of West Germany in 32 simulations from training sessions has no commentary, just the actions themselves in all their surreal beauty, one after the other. The Bundesrepublik Deutschland is shown as a nation of people who can deal with everything because they have been prepared – taught how to react properly in every possible situation.

We know how birth works; how to behave in kindergarten; how to chat up girls, boys or whatever we fancy (for we’re liberal-minded, if only in principle); how to look for a job and maybe live without finding one; how to wiggle our arses in the hottest way possible when we pole-dance, or manage a hostage crisis without things getting (too) bloody. Whatever job we do, we know it by heart; we also know how to manage whatever kind of psychological breakdown we experience; and we are also prepared for the end, and even have an idea about how our burial will go. This is the nation: one of fearful people in dire need of control over their one chance of getting it right.

Viewed from the present, How to Live in the German Federal Republic is revealed as the archetype of many a Farocki film in the decades to follow, for example Die Umschulung (1994), Der Auftritt (1996) or Nicht ohne Risiko (2004), all of which document as dispassionately as possible different – not necessarily simulated – scenarios of social interactions related to labour and capital. For all their enlightening beauty, none of these ever came close to How to Live in the German Federal Republic which, depending on one’s mood, can play like an absurd comedy or the most gut-wrenching drama. Yet one disquieting thing is certain: How to Live in the German Federal Republic didn’t age – our lives still look the same.

— Olaf Möller

8. One Man’s War

(La Guerre d’un seul homme) Edgardo Cozarinsky , 1982

essay review film

One Man’s War proves that an auteur film can be made without writing a line, recording a sound or shooting a single frame. It’s easy to point to the ‘extraordinary’ character of the film, given its combination of materials that were not made to cohabit; there couldn’t be a less plausible dialogue than the one Cozarinsky establishes between the newsreels shot during the Nazi occupation of Paris and the Parisian diaries of novelist and Nazi officer Ernst Jünger . There’s some truth to Pascal Bonitzer’s assertion in Cahiers du cinéma in 1982 that the principle of the documentary was inverted here, since it is the images that provide a commentary for the voice.

But that observation still doesn’t pin down the uniqueness of a work that forces history through a series of registers, styles and dimensions, wiping out the distance between reality and subjectivity, propaganda and literature, cinema and journalism, daily life and dream, and establishing the idea not so much of communicating vessels as of contaminating vessels.

To enquire about the essayistic dimension of One Man’s War is to submit it to a test of purity against which the film itself is rebelling. This is no ars combinatoria but systems of collision and harmony; organic in their temporal development and experimental in their procedural eagerness. It’s like a machine created to die instantly; neither Cozarinsky nor anyone else could repeat the trick, as is the case with all great avant-garde works.

By blurring the genre of his literary essays, his fictional films, his archival documentaries, his literary fictions, Cozarinsky showed he knew how to reinvent the erasure of borders. One Man’s War is not a film about the Occupation but a meditation on the different forms in which that Occupation can be represented.

—Sergio Wolf. Translated by Mar Diestro-Dópido

9. Sans soleil

Chris Marker, 1982

There are many moments to quicken the heart in Sans soleil but one in particular demonstrates the method at work in Marker’s peerless film. An unseen female narrator reads from letters sent to her by a globetrotting cameraman named Sandor Krasna (Marker’s nom de voyage), one of which muses on the 11th-century Japanese writer  Sei Shōnagon .

As we hear of Shōnagon’s “list of elegant things, distressing things, even of things not worth doing”, we watch images of a missile being launched and a hovering bomber. What’s the connection? There is none. Nothing here fixes word and image in illustrative lockstep; it’s in the space between them that Sans soleil makes room for the spectator to drift, dream and think – to inimitable effect.

Sans soleil was Marker’s return to a personal mode of filmmaking after more than a decade in militant cinema. His reprise of the epistolary form looks back to earlier films such as  Letter from Siberia  (1958) but the ‘voice’ here is both intimate and removed. The narrator’s reading of Krasna’s letters flips the first person to the third, using ‘he’ instead of ‘I’. Distance and proximity in the words mirror, multiply and magnify both the distances travelled and the time spanned in the images, especially those of the 1960s and its lost dreams of revolutionary social change.

While it’s handy to define Sans soleil as an ‘essay film’, there’s something about the dry term that doesn’t do justice to the experience of watching it. After Marker’s death last year, when writing programme notes on the film, I came up with a line that captures something of what it’s like to watch Sans soleil: “a mesmerising, lucid and lovely river of film, which, like the river of the ancients, is never the same when one steps into it a second time”.

10. Handsworth Songs

Black Audio Film Collective, 1986

Made at the time of civil unrest in Birmingham, this key example of the essay film at its most complex remains relevant both formally and thematically. Handsworth Songs is no straightforward attempt to provide answers as to why the riots happened; instead, using archive film spliced with made and found footage of the events and the media and popular reaction to them, it creates a poetic sense of context.

The film is an example of counter-media in that it slows down the demand for either immediate explanation or blanket condemnation. Its stillness allows the history of immigration and the subsequent hostility of the media and the police to the black and Asian population to be told in careful detail.

One repeated scene shows a young black man running through a group of white policemen who surround him on all sides. He manages to break free several times before being wrestled to the ground; if only for one brief, utopian moment, an entirely different history of race in the UK is opened up.

The waves of post-war immigration are charted in the stories told both by a dominant (and frequently repressive) televisual narrative and, importantly, by migrants themselves. Interviews mingle with voiceover, music accompanies the machines that the Windrush generation work at. But there are no definitive answers here, only, as the Black Audio Film Collective memorably suggests, “the ghosts of songs”.

— Nina Power

11.   Los Angeles Plays Itself

Thom Andersen, 2003

One of the attractions that drew early film pioneers out west, besides the sunlight and the industrial freedom, was the versatility of the southern Californian landscape: with sea, snowy mountains, desert, fruit groves, Spanish missions, an urban downtown and suburban boulevards all within a 100-mile radius, the Los Angeles basin quickly and famously became a kind of giant open-air film studio, available and pliant.

Of course, some people actually live there too. “Sometimes I think that gives me the right to criticise,” growls native Angeleno Andersen in his forensic three-hour prosecution of moving images of the movie city, whose mounting litany of complaints – couched in Encke King’s gravelly, near-parodically irritated voiceover, and sometimes organised, as Stuart Klawans wrote in The Nation, “in the manner of a saloon orator” – belies a sly humour leavening a radically serious intent.

Inspired in part by Mark Rappaport’s factual essay appropriations of screen fictions (Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, 1993; From the Journals of Jean Seberg , 1995), as well as Godard’s Histoire(s) de cinéma, this “city symphony in reverse” asserts public rights to our screen discourse through its magpie method as well as its argument. (Today you could rebrand it ‘Occupy Hollywood’.) Tinseltown malfeasance is evidenced across some 200 different film clips, from offences against geography and slurs against architecture to the overt historical mythologies of Chinatown (1974), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and L.A. Confidential (1997), in which the city’s class and cultural fault-lines are repainted “in crocodile tears” as doleful tragedies of conspiracy, promoting hopelessness in the face of injustice.

Andersen’s film by contrast spurs us to independent activism, starting with the reclamation of our gaze: “What if we watch with our voluntary attention, instead of letting the movies direct us?” he asks, peering beyond the foregrounding of character and story. And what if more movies were better and more useful, helping us see our world for what it is? Los Angeles Plays Itself grows most moving – and useful – extolling the Los Angeles neorealism Andersen has in mind: stories of “so many men unneeded, unwanted”, as he says over a scene from Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1983), “in a world in which there is so much to be done”.

— Nick Bradshaw

12.   La Morte Rouge

Víctor Erice, 2006

The famously unprolific Spanish director Víctor Erice may remain best known for his full-length fiction feature The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), but his other films are no less rewarding. Having made a brilliant foray into the fertile territory located somewhere between ‘documentary’ and ‘fiction’ with The Quince Tree Sun (1992), in this half-hour film made for the ‘Correspondences’ exhibition exploring resemblances in the oeuvres of Erice and Kiarostami , the relationship between reality and artifice becomes his very subject.

A ‘small’ work, it comprises stills, archive footage, clips from an old Sherlock Holmes movie, a few brief new scenes – mostly without actors – and music by Mompou and (for once, superbly used) Arvo Pärt . If its tone – it’s introduced as a “soliloquy” – and scale are modest, its thematic range and philosophical sophistication are considerable.

The title is the name of the Québécois village that is the setting for The Scarlet Claw (1944), a wartime Holmes mystery starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce which was the first movie Erice ever saw, taken by his sister to the Kursaal cinema in San Sebastian.

For the five-year-old, the experience was a revelation: unable to distinguish the ‘reality’ of the newsreel from that of the nightmare world of Roy William Neill’s film, he not only learned that death and murder existed but noted that the adults in the audience, presumably privy to some secret knowledge denied him, were unaffected by the corpses on screen. Had this something to do with war? Why was La Morte Rouge not on any map? And what did it signify that postman Potts was not, in fact, Potts but the killer – and an actor (whatever that was) to boot?

From such personal reminiscences – evoked with wondrous intimacy in the immaculate Castillian of the writer-director’s own wry narration – Erice fashions a lyrical meditation on themes that have underpinned his work from Beehive to Broken Windows (2012): time and change, memory and identity, innocence and experience, war and death. And because he understands, intellectually and emotionally, that the time-based medium he himself works in can reveal unforgettably vivid realities that belong wholly to the realm of the imaginary, La Morte Rouge is a great film not only about the power of cinema but about life itself.

Sight & Sound: the August 2013 issue

Sight & Sound: the August 2013 issue

In this issue: Frances Ha’s Greta Gerwig – the most exciting actress in America? Plus Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives, Wadjda, The Wall,...

More from this issue

DVDs and Blu Ray

Buy The Complete Humphrey Jennings Collection Volume Three: A Diary for Timothy on DVD and Blu Ray

Buy The Complete Humphrey Jennings Collection Volume Three: A Diary for Timothy on DVD and Blu Ray

Humphrey Jennings’s transition from wartime to peacetime filmmaking.

Buy Chronicle of a Summer on DVD and Blu Ray

Buy Chronicle of a Summer on DVD and Blu Ray

Jean Rouch’s hugely influential and ground-breaking documentary.

Further reading

Video essay: The essay film – some thoughts of discontent - image

Video essay: The essay film – some thoughts of discontent

Kevin B. Lee

The land still lies: Handsworth Songs and the English riots - image

The land still lies: Handsworth Songs and the English riots

Mark Fisher

The world at sea: The Forgotten Space - image

The world at sea: The Forgotten Space

What I owe to Chris Marker - image

What I owe to Chris Marker

Patricio Guzmán

His and her ghosts: reworking La Jetée - image

His and her ghosts: reworking La Jetée

Melissa Bradshaw

At home (and away) with Agnès Varda - image

At home (and away) with Agnès Varda

Daniel Trilling

Pere Portabella looks back - image

Pere Portabella looks back

John Akomfrah’s Hauntologies - image

John Akomfrah’s Hauntologies

Laura Allsop

The roots of neorealism - image

The roots of neorealism

Back to the top

Commercial and licensing

BFI distribution

Archive content sales and licensing

BFI book releases and trade sales

Selling to the BFI

essay review film

Terms of use

BFI Southbank purchases

Online community guidelines

Cookies and privacy

©2024 British Film Institute. All rights reserved. Registered charity 287780.

essay review film

See something different

Subscribe now for exclusive offers and the best of cinema. Hand-picked.

Movie Reviews

Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors.

essay review film

Now streaming on:

Films like “Unbroken,” and the Laura Hillenbrand book on which it’s based, capture something we all hope is true about ourselves—that we too are unbreakable. That when faced with horrendous, life-threatening situations, we would respond in similar fashion to Louis Zamperini, finding a new well of courage within ourselves and surviving the unimaginable. It is the resilience of the human spirit that has drawn us to films based on true stories again and again to experience pain and triumph in the relative comfort of a movie theater seat.

“Unbroken” opens with a powerfully staged and shot sequence of aerial combat that surprisingly defines the film's strengths and weaknesses over the next two-plus hours. The attention to detail as Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), Russell ‘Phil’ Phillips ( Domhnall Gleeson ) and Hugh ‘Cup’ Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) spin their plane around and take aim at the enemy feels accurate. There’s a weight to the gunfire and a fragility to the aircraft itself that conveys that these people were always a more-accurate gunsight away from tragedy. And yet there’s something wrong here too. The sunset on the horizon looks like a painting. The clouds are perfectly placed for visual impact. The little drop of blood on Zamperini’s forehead can’t hide his movie star looks or movie star make-up. Everything feels accurate in its staging, and yet also not quite genuine. It's Hollywood, old-fashioned movie accurate. And despite O’Connell’s instant charisma (the guy is going to be a MASSIVE star), this feeling never leaves “Unbroken”—the sense that we’re watching human suffering that looks too pretty and too refined to convey its intended impact.

Louis Zamperini should have become a household name for his athletic ability. The “Torrance Tornado” was a US Olympic athlete whose career was cut short when he joined World War II as a bombardier. Even in country, Zamperini is seen training, pushing himself right at the moment that most people would give up. He is the kind of runner who hangs back, and only makes his move when everyone has reached the point of exhaustion. Of course, this is a character trait that will serve him well during the nightmare he’s about to endure.

Zamperini and two other men, including Phil, survive a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They barely make it long enough to board a raft, where the conditions of hunger, dehydration and heat exhaustion take their toll. These scenes are remarkably well-staged and executed by director Angelina Jolie and her team. They’re the best in the film, the moments in which we can feel Zamperini’s increasing desperation and likely death. They have a focus, fragility and purpose that the second half of the film lacks.

That begins when Zamperini is captured after 47 days adrift, and forced into horrific conditions and hard labor in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. Here, Jolie simply fails to convey the danger and what’s truly at stake. “Unbroken” starts to go through the motions of history recreation instead of real character drama, and while I have loved Roger Deakins ’ work in the past, it’s too “pretty” here, covering every shot in that vague beige of WWII memory, which never allows us to put ourselves in Zamperini’s speedy shoes. If we can’t feel the urgency of his plight, we won’t have the same emotional response to it as we would with more blood, more dirt, and just more danger. It becomes something we watch instead of something we experience. There's a difference.

The relative disappointment of “Unbroken” has nothing to do with Jack O’Connell, a truly gifted actor who has emerged as a fully-formed movie star with this, his even better work in “ Starred Up ,” and next year’s great “’71.” He may not be a household name yet. He will be. In fact, he’s so good that one wishes Jolie asked more of him. Gleeson also deserves praise for taking a smaller role and making it memorable. He too is an actor really worth watching. “Unbroken” could be a film that we look back on as an early entry in the careers of major stars.

Because the disappointing thing is we won’t really look back at the film itself on its own merits. It’s one of those inspirational Hollywood dramas about which there isn’t anything "overtly wrong" with it. It’s well-cast, it looks great, it has that intense centerpiece in the raft, and it certainly conveys a true story worth telling. And yet I keep coming back to that beautiful sunrise that opens the film. It’s just too damn pretty.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Now playing

essay review film

Simon Abrams

essay review film

Kung Fu Panda 4

Christy lemire.

essay review film

Sheila O'Malley

essay review film

Nandini Balial

essay review film

Accidental Texan

essay review film

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Matt zoller seitz, film credits.

Unbroken movie poster

Unbroken (2014)

Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language

137 minutes

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini

Takamasa Ishihara as Mutsuhiro 'The Bird' Watanabe

Garrett Hedlund as John Fitzgerald

Jai Courtney as Hugh 'Cup' Cuppernell

Domhnall Gleeson as Russel Allen 'Phil' Phillips

Finn Wittrock as Francis 'Mac' McNamara

John Magaro as Frank A. Tinker

Alex Russell as Pete Zamperini

Luke Treadaway as Miller

  • Angelina Jolie
  • Richard Lagravenese
  • William Nicholson

Director of Photography

  • Roger Deakins

Latest blog posts

essay review film

​Criterion Celebrates the Films That Forever Shifted Our Perception of Kristen Stewart​

essay review film

The Estate of George Carlin Destroys AI George Carlin in Victory for Copyright Protection (and Basic Decency)

essay review film

The Future of the Movies, Part 3: Fathom Events CEO Ray Nutt

essay review film

11:11 - Eleven Reviews by Roger Ebert from 2011 in Remembrance of His Transition 11 Years Ago

  • International edition
  • Australia edition
  • Europe edition

Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew in Scoop.

Scoop review – self-admiring replay of Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview

Emily Maitlis’s interview was unmissable limo-crash television, but Gillian Anderson’s Maggie Thatcher-lite performance and an underused Rufus Sewell add little

H ere is a laboriously acted and distinctly self-admiring, self-mythologising drama about the media, the royals and the media royals. It is all about Emily Maitlis’s 2019 BBC Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew , challenging him about being friends with sex trafficker and abuser Jeffrey Epstein. The prince’s performance was so grotesquely embarrassing that he had to forgo his royal titles and “step back” from public duties , an achievement much emphasised over the closing credits, but about which audiences may now have mixed feelings, given that he is still, after all, known as Prince Andrew and still unrepentantly prominent on royal occasions.

Rufus Sewell in heavy prosthetic makeup plays the pompous HRH, a puffy-faced babyish poltroon whose smug smile is that of someone accustomed to having his every lame or boorish joke greeted with gales of laughter, and every boneheaded observation rewarded with a solemn courtier’s nod. But that normally estimable performer Gillian Anderson goes into a peculiar Maggie Thatcher-lite mode to play Maitlis – all gimlet-eyed forensic alertness and unrelaxed eccentricity as she brings her dog into the office.

Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in Scoop.

In the supporting roles, Billie Piper plays tough producer Sam McAlister who landed the interview, trusting her fierce journalistic instincts in the face of her colleagues’ prissy squeamishness and highmindedness, and Keeley Hawes plays Andrew’s long-serving, discreet and loyal private secretary Amanda Thirsk who is sufficiently amiable and unstuffy with Sam to have a private drink with her in a hotel bar with no other flunkies present, and entertain Sam’s notion of a candid TV interview. Something in the movie’s body language seems to suggest an important kind of female solidarity here, and yet, whatever she thought in private, Thirsk isn’t shown caring or commenting about Epstein’s victims, and she appears to believe in Andrew’s innocence. There is a male media adviser who is shown as very uptight and disapproving about this whole interview idea – and he, on the basic level of PR, is of course proved right. And yet his exclusion from the discussion process sheds no light on what Palace officials believed about Andrew’s behaviour.

The big moment happens – interestingly – off camera, when Andrew asks “mummy” if he should do the interview, and returns with the news that Her Majesty “trusts his judgment” – the Queen evidently joining Amanda Thirsk among the indulgent women in Andrew’s life who made that calamitous mistake. The resulting interview itself is apparently considered important enough to have a second feature-drama treatment about it in development called A Very Royal Scandal . Even Frost/Nixon only got one film and the Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales only merited a single episode on The Crown.

And despite the title … well, was it a scoop, exactly? It was certainly a terrific coup and an unmissable bit of limo-crash television. But a “scoop”? All the factual elements had been established by other people, significantly by photographer Jae Donnelly (played in a prologue sequence by Connor Swindells) who took the famous picture of Andrew in New York’s Central Park with Epstein. The interview itself, though vividly and valuably showing us the mindset of a member of the ruling class, and showing us how outrageously stupid and entitled Andrew is (which we knew already), didn’t get Andrew to concede anything explicitly.

There is one spark: when Prince Andrew is shown humiliating a female underling for mishandling his collection of soft toys. It’s a flash of black-comic horror and Sewell has something to get his teeth into as an actor. Otherwise, the drama is smothered by its own overwhelming sense of importance.

after newsletter promotion

  • Drama films
  • Gillian Anderson
  • Rufus Sewell
  • Billie Piper
  • Prince Andrew
  • Emily Maitlis

Most viewed

an image, when javascript is unavailable

By providing your information, you agree to our Terms of Use and our Privacy Policy . We use vendors that may also process your information to help provide our services. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA Enterprise and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

‘Scoop’ Review: Prince Andrew’s Catastrophic Jeremy Epstein Interview Gets ‘The Crown’ Treatment in Unfocused Netflix Thriller

David ehrlich.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share to Flipboard
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Show more sharing options
  • Submit to Reddit
  • Post to Tumblr
  • Print This Page
  • Share on WhatsApp

It makes sense that Netflix leapt at the chance to adapt Sam McAllister’s “Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews,” as the story that screenwriter Peter Moffat has pulled from it feels like nothing so much as an episode from season eight or nine of “The Crown” — the most compelling thing about this film might be the case it makes in support of the streamer’s decision to end that series after season six. 

Is this, like so much of “The Crown,” a story about the monarchy’s failure to mature with the times? Is this a “Spotlight”-flavored story about a brilliant TV producer — Sam McAllister herself, played here by the great Billie Piper — who recognizes the gravity of Prince Andrew’s (alleged) misconduct, and wills the other women at “Newsnight” to make him pay for his (alleged) involvement in the assault and sex trafficking of underage girls? Is this a story about how charm, title, and power can blind people to the most obvious forms of moral rot, even when it manifests within themselves? 

The call doesn’t come until a few months before Epstein’s death, as Sam — a blustery single mom whose job is to book the kind of guests that other shows can’t — identifies Prince Andrew’s connection with Epstein as a potential “Newsnight” story. Her peers might scoff that it’s too scandalous and trashy for their hard news show, but the program is struggling to balance journalistic integrity with its desperate need for ratings, and Sam is convinced she’s found the perfect thing to split the difference. 

So, to the mild chagrin of her editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai) and “Newsnight” anchor Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), Sam begins trying to make inroads with Prince Andrew’s loyal private secretary. Her name is Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), and she’s a decent and capable woman who refuses to believe the worst rumors about her royal boss, even if she recognizes that his public image is in dire need of rehabilitation — and even if Rufus Sewell, amusingly puffed up inside a simpering layer of entitlement and a pair of thick prosthetic jowls, plays the Queen’s buffoonish charmer of a son as an inbred momma’s boy who loves arranging the stuffed animals in his office almost as much as he loves paying underage girls for sex. 

Where McAllister and her colleagues at the BBC were afraid they might become the story if they didn’t finesse it right, this film — naturally directed by “The Crown” alum Philip Martin — is tasked with reminding us that the story couldn’t have been told without them. “Scoop” does what it can to tease some excitement out of the sleepless, 70-hour cram session when Prince Andrew and the “Newsnight” team retreat to their separate corners in order to prepare for the interview, but the most interesting thing about the process is how unseriously the Prince takes it. As Sam tells her tween son, a character who’s shoehorned into this script for the sole purpose of hearing this one line of dialogue: “Most people want to talk and are terrible at listening.” Some of them can’t even hear themselves clearly. 

After spending 60 years ensconced in the empire’s tightest echo chamber, Prince Andrew has lost all perspective as to the seriousness of this or any situation, and to how ridiculous some of his answers might seem in light of what Emily Maitlis’ questions will imply. “Scoop” is happy to see Prince Andrew as an easy punchline (his last appearance in the movie finds him standing butt-naked in his bathroom as tweets of doom begin to ding across his phone), but the film is never more textured or humane than when it focuses on Amanda’s dawning awareness of the pathetic man she’s enabled like a duty. This movie needed to have a character who’s effectively hearing Prince Andrew for the first time, because most of the people watching it on Netflix won’t have the same luxury.

Amanda becomes even more important because of how little there is for Sam to do once the interview is confirmed. She’s relegated to the background as the brunt of the responsibility is shifted onto Emily’s shoulders, and whatever momentum the movie has cultivated around her character arc is relegated to the background along with it. 

It’s true enough that good broadcast journalism is still an effective bulwark against the vicissitudes of the 21st century, but it doesn’t seem right for “Scoop” to so triumphantly settle on that moral as the big idea that might collect this movie into something more than news media cosplay. There’s no doubt the “Newsnight” team deserved a pat on the back after giving Prince Andrew enough rope to hang himself on national TV, but the victory lap they’re given here is wildly unearned at the end of a film that struggles to find a story beyond its own sensationalism. 

“Scoop” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, April 5.

Most Popular

You may also like.

Canneseries Wacky Norwegian Post-Apocalypse Comedy ‘Dumbsday’ boarded by Primitives (EXCLUSIVE)

IMAGES

  1. Movie Review Template

    essay review film

  2. 9+ Film Review Templates

    essay review film

  3. Write a Movie Critique Essay

    essay review film

  4. Film Review Essay

    essay review film

  5. 😎 Film essay example. How To Write A Good Movie Review Guide (with Example) For College Students

    essay review film

  6. Critique Paper Example

    essay review film

VIDEO

  1. american fiction: an ironic satire (movie review)

  2. How to Write a Movie Review

  3. How to write Film Review

  4. How to Write a Film Review

  5. Tarantino’s INCREDIBLE attention to detail in Pulp Fiction

  6. Exploring the Power of Video Essays in Film Criticism

COMMENTS

  1. Movie Review Essay Examples Papers and Topics

    Topics: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Feminism, Holly Golightly, Marx's theory of alienation, Marxism, Movie Review, Sex industry, Sex worker, Social class. 1 2 … 18. Perfect and absolutely free movie review essays. Find the best movie review essay examples and relevant topics for inspiration in our database.

  2. Guide on Movie Review with Free Samples and Tips

    A remarkable aspect of a good film review is that it doesn't just rate the movie but provides explicit views that form the critique's basis. This form of writing, like crafting essays, research papers, and term papers, should be insightful and draw the reader in quickly. It's important to discuss the reputation of the lead actors and directors ...

  3. How to Write a Movie Review: 5 Tips for Writing Movie Reviews

    1. Take notes. As you watch the film, note any critical elements you want to discuss in your review. Write down factors that pique your interest, like performance, lighting choices, music placement, CGI, thematic arcs, and other elements you think the audience will find interesting. 2.

  4. How to Write a Movie Review for College

    Name of the director. Title of the book (if based on a book) Draft the review outline: Draft an outline with which you will write the review. The overview will help you organize your review concisely and logically. The outline is more like the skeletal frame on which the whole study will stand.

  5. How to Write a Movie Review Essay: An Ultimate Guide

    To write a proper movie review make sure the section contains the following points: Analysis of the main actors, how they perform, and what they bring (or maybe their fail to) to the movie; Consider the formal techniques like lighting or set and assess how well all of them were utilized; Check out the costumes and analyze if they fit the time ...

  6. Film&Movie Review Examples and Samples

    A significant aspect of writing a movie review is sharing your personal viewpoint or perspective. Offer your judgment on the film's strengths and weaknesses, providing specific examples from the movie to support your appraisal. Be honest and thoughtful in your assessment, considering both your own preferences and the film's intended audience.

  7. How to Write a Movie Review

    A film review essay is more than just a plot summary followed by a recommendation. A movie review analyzes different elements of a movie and mixes personal opinion with objective analysis. The goal of the movie review is to tell the reader about the details of a movie while giving them enough information to decide for themselves whether it's ...

  8. How To Write a Movie Review Essay

    A movie review essay is a critical piece of writing that aims to give a well-rounded assessment and analysis of a film. Good assignments will consider the film from all angles, looking at everything from the writing and acting, to the direction and editing.

  9. How to Write a Good Movie Review Essay

    Avoid writing your opinion in dark or hidden places like the middle-end or the last part of the review. 3. Write a summary without breaking suspense: Avoid spoiling the suspense of the movie in your review essay. Instead, describe the events occurring in the movie in just 3 to 5 lines without leaking suspense.

  10. How to Write a Movie Review: 10 Essential Tips

    1. Watch the film at least once. For new reviewers, it's impossible to capture everything after one viewing. Watching the film first, then watching to take notes, is an easy way to improve the quality of your final review. This will also make it easy to recall in-the-moment thoughts and reactions.

  11. How to Write a Movie Review (with Sample Reviews)

    Find a place to mention the director's name and the full movie title. If you feel you must discuss information that might "spoil" things for readers, warn them first. 2. Start to talk about the film's technical and artistic choices. Plot is just one piece of a movie, and shouldn't dictate your entire review.

  12. Step By Step Guide On Writing Powerfully Persuasive Film Review Essay

    Drafting The Review. Another crucial step is drafting. Drafting helps you create a rough version of your paper, modify it, and polish it to shine in the long run. Since you know some background information—such as the title of the film, a release year, director's name, lead actors, and genre—and watched the film, you can start writing the ...

  13. Step By Step Guide to Writing an Essay on Film

    Here's a step-by-step guide to help you with an essay service: 1. Watch the Movie. This is the obvious starting point, but surprisingly many students skip this step. It doesn't matter if you've watched the movie twice before. If you're asked to write an essay about it, you need to watch it again.

  14. How to write a film review

    Another thing to remember is that your review should always have a title, and that title should include the name of the film. Introduction - Essential details and mini-summary. Summary - A description of the film and some important details. Analysis - An evaluation of different elements. Conclusion - Your opinion and a recommendation.

  15. PDF Film Review

    Writing the Film Review Although there is not a set formula to follow when writing a film review, the genre does have certain common elements that most film reviews include. 1) Introduction - In the opening of your review, provide some basic information about the film. You may include film's name, year, director, screenwriter, and major actors.

  16. Movie Review Essay Examples

    Christopher Nolan's Interstellar: Movie Review . In work "Christopher Nolan's Interstellar Movie Review Essay" we will talk about about main themes and narrative of this film. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the 2014 film Interstellar is an exceptional film in terms of it being both scientifically accurate and having a...

  17. Film review

    Check your understanding: multiple choice. Check your understanding: grouping. Worksheets and downloads. Film review - exercises 640.07 KB. Film review - answers 140.04 KB. Film review - text 379.35 KB. Film review - writing practice 299.18 KB.

  18. How Can I Write an Essay About a Movie?

    Here are top tips by experts when writing an essay about a particular movie during your assignments: 1. Watch the Movie. The first obvious standpoint for writing an essay about any movie is watching the film. Watching the movie builds an important foundation for the writing exercise. Composing an insightful, compelling, and well-thought movie ...

  19. Deep focus: The essay film

    The Sight & Sound Deep Focus season Thought in Action: The Art of the Essay Film runs at BFI Southbank 1-28 August 2013, with a keynote lecture by Kodwo Eshun on 1 August, a talk by writer and academic Laura Rascaroli on 27 August and a closing panel debate on 28 August. To take this film-lovers' tiff to a more elevated plane, what it ...

  20. Reflexive Memories: The Images of the Cine-Essay

    While the video essay form, in regards to its practice of exploring the visual themes in cinematic discourse, has seen a recent surge in popularity with viewers (thanks to invaluable online resources like indieWIRE's Press Play, Fandor's Keyframe and the academic peer-reviewed journal [in]Transition), its historical role as a significant filmmaking genre has long been prominent among film ...

  21. The Batman movie review & film summary (2022)

    I could write an entire, separate essay on the film's many uses of the color red to suggest energy, danger, even hope. And the costume design from the great Jacqueline Durran—with Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon designing Pattinson's rough-and-tumble Batsuit—put just the right finishing touch on the film's cool, edgy vibe.

  22. Unbroken movie review & film summary (2014)

    Advertisement. "Unbroken" opens with a powerfully staged and shot sequence of aerial combat that surprisingly defines the film's strengths and weaknesses over the next two-plus hours. The attention to detail as Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), Russell 'Phil' Phillips ( Domhnall Gleeson) and Hugh 'Cup' Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) spin ...

  23. Essay SPM Bahasa Inggeris : Free Guy (Movie Review)

    The movie has something for everyone, and it's perfect for a night out with friends or a family movie night. If you're looking for a great movie that will leave you entertained, "Free Guy" is the perfect choice. Movie Review Essay: Black Panther. Essay SPM - Free Guy Movie Review

  24. 'Scoop' review: A Netflix movie digs into the BBC's Prince Andrew

    Of course, the film might earn greater praise from "friendly" critics, but that qualified endorsement is about the best this one can do. "Scoop" premieres April 5 on Netflix. Ad Feedback

  25. Scoop review

    H ere is a laboriously acted and distinctly self-admiring, self-mythologising drama about the media, the royals and the media royals. It is all about Emily Maitlis's 2019 BBC Newsnight interview ...

  26. 'Scoop' Review: Prince Andrew's Catastrophic Jeremy Epstein Interview

    A thin but propulsive journalistic thriller about the making of the November 2019 "Newsnight" segment in which Prince Andrew self-immolated on national television while being grilled about his ...