Anyone who makes it onto the big screen knows that every decision you make is being watched and judged by potentially millions of people. That’s a lot of pressure on them and the film critic who must watch and provide meaningful commentary on this display.

The six things that every film review should include are a plot summary, their first impression, commentary on the acting, analysis of technical elements, an evaluation of the film’s overall success, and the critic’s final recommendation. 

Let’s dissect each of these six factors in-depth, so you can write a fair and accurate film analysis that does the film justice and educates readers.

1. Plot Summary

The very first element that no film review can go without is a proper plot summary. Critics should mention the film’s name, when it was released, the major players, which includes the main cast and the director or producer, and what the movie is about.

This doesn’t mean they need to write a complete film synopsis. 

They only need to briefly explain the film’s plot so that readers all start the review on the same page. The plot summary is crucial, as this is the first section of the review, and it will either draw readers in or turn them away. 

If they’re turning away because they’re bored, they could miss out on a great film. But if the critic writes a genuinely engaging and informative review, they’re sure to grab readers’ attention, even if the film they’re reviewing isn’t necessarily their cup of tea. 

2. The Critic’s First Impression

The critic’s first impression is usually intertwined with the plot summary and lets readers know where the critic stands right away. 

For instance, Matt Zoller Seitz writes about the film Three Minutes: A Lengthening, saying, “Bianca Stigter’s documentary…is a great film about filmmaking and a quietly devastating memorial for lives long gone.”

This combines information about the plot while also communicating to the reader that Zoller is very impressed by the film. The critic could decide to mention their initial thoughts before seeing the film and compare that with their feelings afterward. 

3. Commentary on the Acting

One of the first things the average watcher wants to know about a film is who the cast is. Casting can make or break a film, and some of the greatest movies in history are remembered as such because of stellar performances by the lead actors. 

There are several questions to ask when you’re analyzing acting in a film:

  • Does the actor suit the role?
  • Do the actors have on-screen chemistry?
  • Who are the characters, and how do they behave and interact? 
  • How do the acting styles fit the genre?
  • How does this actor bring life to their character?
  • Does the actor undergo any changes to resemble their character, e.g., an altered accent or prosthetic?

Most of the commentary will be about their on-screen performance in this particular film. Critics can also mention how it compares to other films the actor/s have been in and incorporate the actor/s’ backstories to enrich the readers’ understanding of the role. 

These tips for acting performance analysis will give you a deeper understanding of what actors do to breathe life into their characters and how this shows up in a movie. 

4. Analysis of Technical Elements

This is one of the most significant factors to look at when reviewing a film. A critic doesn’t necessarily need to comment on each individual element, but they need to comment on ones that stand out and make a significant contribution. 

These technical elements are:

  • Camera work: This encapsulates a film’s various shots, angles, and camera movement. Camera work defines the relationship between characters and objects. 
  • Lighting: Take note of the lighting used and what mood it’s setting. Ensure to check what the lighting conventions of certain genres are. 
  • Color: Is the color grading natural? Did the editor intentionally desaturate certain scenes? Does a particular color keep showing up on-screen? Ask questions about what the director intended with these choices. 
  • Editing: The editing should allow every scene and cut to flow together seamlessly. Note any continuity errors and how scenes are cut together to tell a story. 
  • Sound and audio: Listen to the actors’ dialogue, the music choices, dubs, and sound effects. Does it enhance the atmosphere? Is it high quality? What message does it send, if any?
  • Set design: This is how scenes are decorated, and every object placed should be intentional and meaningful. 

5. An Evaluation of the Film’s Overall Success

The next item in a film review is a summary of all the elements discussed in the review and should address the film’s shortcomings and successes, while focusing on plot points and technical decisions that either enhance or detract from the movie. 

This is all to circle back to the director’s intentions with the film. 

The critic will assess whether the film achieved what it was created for, whether the messaging injected into it was communicated effectively, or if it got lost in translation. Here, the critic can also compare to another piece of media, possibly by the same director or lead actor, to comment on its overall effectiveness.   

6. The Critic’s Final Recommendation

This is where the critic makes a final assessment of the film. Sometimes this is accompanied by a star rating, but not every critic uses this system.

The final recommendation encapsulates the film’s overarching message, or what we can take away from it, and the critic’s last commentary. Finally, they’ll tell the reader why they should or shouldn’t watch the movie or what parts they may or may not enjoy. 

Sometimes critics will recommend this movie to a particular audience

For example, Nell Minow has this to say about Easter Sunday: “Anyone who is Filipino, like the family I sat with at the screening, will have a whole extra level of delight at representation.”

Minow also recommends this to non-Filipino audiences, but for different reasons. This kind of recommendation enriches a review by reaching out to particular readers based on specific elements of a film, which can often make readers feel seen. 

Bonus: 4 Things To Avoid in A Film Review

As well as features critics should always include in reviews, there are some that critics should leave out entirely.

  • Spoilers: Critics should never include spoilers, at least not without warning. Spoilers will ruin the film for readers, and they’ll probably decide that they won’t watch it after all in light of this information. 
  • Unjustifiably harsh judgments or insults: Throwing around insults or unfair criticism at films and the people who make them will ruin a critic’s reputation, even if the person they’re insulting is unpopular. This kind of review is unprofessional.
  • Spending too much time on comparisons: Though some comparisons between a film and other media can be valuable, you shouldn’t focus on them and lose sight of the present film you’re reviewing. 
  • Frivolous language: Regardless of who you’re writing for, make your review as accessible as possible by using clear and easily understandable language. You can use some flowery language to add color, but don’t overdo it. 

Look at this Wzuz News article to learn what else to avoid when writing a film review.


Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.