How To Critique a Drama Film

Just as a book review is not the same thing as a book report, a film critique is not the same as a film review. A critique analyzes the parts of a film that work, and those that don't, and might briefly discuss the film in terms of political or historical context.

Educate Yourself  A movie critic needs a background in film history. Take college classes, or educate yourself by watching. Your local library should have plenty of films from all eras, along with books. Rent films from or look at public-domain examples at Get familiar with films, writers and directors -- the famous and the less-known. Turner Classic Movies is an excellent source.

Learn the key elements of a good film. They should harmonize to give viewers a total experience. Many good films lack strength in one or more elements but are carried along by excellence in other areas. Get used to taking a film apart into its basic components. If you've ever seen the Academy Awards, you know that they give Oscars not just for acting, but for each of these important components or factors.

Some of the Elements:

  • Screenplay -- The screenwriter creates the basic premise, story, dialogue, characters, and visual imagery. Is the story consistent and believable? Is the dialogue clear and understandable?
  • Acting -- The actors embody the characters and give them life. Are they believable? Do the actors believe in what they are doing? Do they speak clearly? Do they give you a sense of the characters' motivations and emotions?
  • Set Design -- The set designer creates the scenery in which the actors move and speak. The shapes and colors are important to the film's ambiance. How do the sets look? Are they visually appealing as well as convincing?
  • Costume Design and Hairstyling -- Like set design, costuming and hair style establish a visual impression. Do the actors look comfortable in their outfits? Do the costumes look authentic? Do they seem to help the actors "become" the people they are playing?
  • Editing -- Usually, each scene is shot several times from a variety of angles, and edited together to convey mood as well as to move the story along. Proper editing contributes to the emotional atmosphere of the story.
  • Cinematography -- The art of choosing the types of lighting, cameras, films, lenses and filters used. Today, most movies are made digitally, which entails an entirely different set of skills and a different range of effects. However, some movies are still made on film. Cinematography registers on the viewer the way a photograph or a painting does.
  • Music -- The score underlies and enriches the story but must never distract from it. Some really great movies have no music; for others, the music is a sort of character in the film.
  • Production -- The producer is responsible for development, figuring out who and what will be needed and how much everything will cost. She or he should work closely with the writer and director.
  • Direction -- The director works with the entire crew. She or he has final approval on most of the elements, plans camera angles, and decides where the actors will stand and how they will move and speak their lines. Some directors allow their actors little freedom, others are lenient. How has the director influenced the film? Can you tell one director's style from another's?
  • Mise en scene (French for placement in scene) -- this is the element that includes all the others. It's the overall visual, aural and emotional impression. Do the elements fit together well? Which did and did not work for you?

Write Your Critique Prepare by learning something about the year in which the film was made, as well as facts about the people -- not just the writer or director -- who worked on the film. Watch the film several times, if you can, and take notes.

A film critique can be brief or lengthy. Know who your audience is. Tell how the film came to be made, what it is about, who is in it, the effectiveness of the elements and the people behind them. Give your opinion as to whether or not your readers might like the film, and tell them what to expect.

Other intelligent, reasonable people may not share your opinions. If you get feedback, learn from it.

As you write critiques, you may become interested in how film relates to everyday life and reality; why people watch films, what they choose to watch, and how various kinds of films affect people. You might like to find out more about film theories, ideas and philosophies, and write further critiques concentrating on these aspects.


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