Why do we need film critics? Film reviews are hugely important to the film industry. People make decisions whether they see a film based on reviews – they provide the image of the film. A good film review analyses what the film does as a medium that makes it worth your watch. You could discuss the punchy dialogue, rich sound design, clever editing, the way the film handles certain issues. You could even compare it to another film, maybe by the same director, and highlight how they tick in the same way. Knowing how to talk about films in an engaging way determines how your readers approach a film.
Film reviewing is about constantly writing. Practice makes perfect, eh? Here are a few tips of how to write a first-rate review:
1. You have to draw in your readers from the beginning.
Face it. People have a short attention span; this means that, especially with the longer film reviews, if you don’t hook readers in from the opening line, they won’t continue with the rest. The opening and closing of your film review should be the most stimulating.
2. Make it personal.
Reviewing might be a hobby you take on the side and for which you won’t have a lot of time. Still, you won’t be able to pull off writing a film review by quickly reading what has already been written about it and winging it. A review has to start with you watching the film, and preferably knowing as little extra about it as possible. If you can, watch it on the big screen and several times. Make notes about what you found fascinating, questionable, uneasy, soul-searching and use that as your analytical starting point. You’ll be surprised how a good review becomes a great one depending on how much it engages with the film.
3. Understanding Context
That being said, it is important to understand the film’s context. Knowing how to write about a film should come hand-in-hand with the knowledge of where it is coming from, who is making it, who it’s targeting and where you stand as a person who is writing a criticism of it. This is possibly the most important and yet trivialised aspect of reviewing. A film made by a female director or with a strong female cast is not going to be fairly represented if it’s predominantly reviewed by male critics. Undervaluing the importance of context can not only be disrespectful but also detrimental in representing a film.
4. Be Fair
Whilst film reviews are meant to be subjective, it’s not cool to say you don’t like something if you don’t explain your reasons why! Support your opinions with specific examples. There’s another simple reason for doing this: people look for different reasons why to go see a film. If you didn’t like the film because it contained too much violence and action, your readers who like war or crime films might have a different take.
5. Spoiler Alert!
And please, No spoilers. Revealing a very important part of the plot will annoy readers and filmmakers alike – describe whatever parts of the plot you need to for your own purposes but know where to draw the line.
6. Read, Read, Read
Finally, read lots of reviews – you will learn the craft of writing reviews by reading a lot of them on films you’ve both seen and haven’t seen. Find your favourite reviewers whose writing style you like and follow them on Twitter – if you fell in love with a film, check whether another reviewer has picked up on the same aspects as you have, and if not, try to figure out why. Writing well is not as easy as you think – it takes time to adjust to a certain style and vocabulary; to develop your personal voice: this can be achieved by continuously watching films, reading reviews and writing them continuously. So remember – practice makes perfect.