So after spending time as a beat reporter, sports writer or feature writer, you’ve finally made the leap to becoming a film reviewer. It’s no doubt a big transition, since your sensibilities as an article writer will have to change: no longer are you reporting on a person or event objectively; as a movie reviewer, you are now expected to give your personal opinion of a film through a critical analysis of several elements that add up to the overall movie experience.

So is there a right or wrong way to review a film? Not really, as long as it’s done in a professional manner.  I don’t claim to personally have all of the answers, but there is a definitely a mindset that I approach each of my film reviews with. Since I use the four-star rating system in my reviews, here’s a look at the top four things to consider before you start writing your own review.

4. Engage and Inform A review should be engaging because the review should be well-written enough to keep the reader interested throughout the piece; and informative because the point of a review is to advise the reader whether the film is worth their time and money. Readers are likely looking at your review because they want a professional opinion. As a film reviewer, you generally see many more movies than Joe and Jane Public, and over time, that should give you more insight into the merits of filmmaking. Because you are professional, your opinion is trusted and valued.
Being informative just comes down to basic journalistic common sense. After your lead paragraph — which should essentially be a short, opinionated summation of your entire review — the next thing to do is inform your readers with the basic facts surrounding your subject. Tell them, in no more than two or three paragraphs, what the basic plot of the film is. This can be the trickiest part of the review, because there’s often a fine line between what is basic information and what is a key plot point, aka a “spoiler.”

3. Focus On The Big Picture While it’s generally the actors who attract the most attention, a film is a tremendous undertaking that involves huge amounts of human and technological resources. Generally, the quality of the acting is vital, because generally (unless it’s director Terrence Malick’s trippy “The Tree of Life”) acting is the glue that holds the whole film together. If actors can’t suspend our disbelief, then the mission of the filmmakers to entertain you is futile. Other big elements to consider are story and direction. Within its own genre, how does the film hold up against other, similar notable films? Are there plot similarities? Or is there something different that separates it from the rest? Determining originality for your reader is key, since you reader, who is spending their hard-earned money on the film, wants to know if they are just about to see something borrowed or something new.

Also to be considered are any number of surrounding elements that enhance the film, both seen and unseen: from visual effects and the set pieces, to the pacing of the story, the score (which has just as power to affect viewers’ emotions as the acting) and the overall tone of the film.

2. Remember The Film’s Intended Audience While part of the reviewing process involves how the piece moves you personally, remember you are not reviewing the film JUST for your own satisfaction. With every film you need to ask yourself, “How does the film work for its intended audience?” Don’t make the greatest film of all time the standard on which ALL other films should be judged. Sure, it’s fair enough pair it down and compare it to other films in the genre — especially if you see plot similarities: but in no way should you ever compare a dramatic epic like “The Godfather” to a comedy hit like “Father of the Bride.” They are two completely different types of films. The best way to criticize, naturally, is to judge a film on its own merits.

1. Remember Who The Star Is While engaging readers is a vital part of the film reviewing process, never should the aim of a piece be to entertain. This is where many movie reviewers go wrong. In an effort to draw attention to themselves and their “clever” writing skills, reviewers sometimes will try to make outrageous statements in an effort to solicit a response — generally, laughter, from their readers. If reviewers somehow look upon themselves as the “star” of the piece, then they’ve forgotten what their role in the whole process is. And true, while it’s an opinion piece they are writing, at heart, they still are reporting their findings to the readers. Remember, you are writing about a film project of a star or stars — and are not a star yourself. Be honest and be yourself. If you are, readers will give you four stars (out of four).