Critical Film Analysis

Matthew Israel Byrge

English 1020

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Film Review


You are writing a critical film analysis, which requires a close engagement with the material.

I am not expecting, nor am I wanting, a play-by-play regurgitation of the film, but instead, a thoughtful critical engagement of the filmmaker’s choices based on the rhetorical appeals and/or strategies we have been learning this semester. This means that you must discuss the filmmaker’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos as well as other rhetorical strategies including audience and situation.  You will also discuss logical fallacies that you see occurring within the context of the film.


Rhetorical Situation/Explication:  Imagine yourself as a film critic for a prestigious magazine or newspaper, such as Variety, The New Yorker or The New York Times.  You will seek out examples of reviews from these publications (and others) as models.  Your job is to demonstrate a critical analysis of the film’s content, as well as a discussion for the intended audience(s) and any relevant commentary on the film’s production/genre. You may reference our readings, but you are not allowed to use any other outside sources.  So, you will not be unduly influenced, please do not consult any other film review of your chosen documentary film.  You may, however, look to other reviews of other movies and/or documentaries as models, which can be found online or in the library databases.  I do not want a “copy” of these models; they are only a guide to help you in the writing process.  Remember we will be spending a lot of class time going over models and tips in writing film reviews.  Refer to the Envision chapter and/or any other hand-outs that I give you.



  • You will read and analyze different types of texts; in this case visual (both sound and moving pictures).
  • You will become better aware of the different types of rhetorical situations.
  • You will conduct primary research using your observations by viewing a documentary film, distinguishing between fact, opinion, and point of view.
  • You will continue to provide constructive feedback in the form of peer collaboration.
  • You will be exposed to some controversial topics in these documentaries, but they are meant to give you a better awareness of the world around you and to make you better equipped in real world settings.
  • Remember your audience. You will be better able to engage with topics without making value judgments, but instead base your opinions on rhetorical techniques and appeals you see the filmmakers employing.
  • Since you are required to include a Works Cited page, we will be using your Easy Writer to practice documentation.






You must adhere to the Paper Format hand-out you were given at the beginning of the semester.  Failure to comply with proper Paper Format will result in deduction of points from this assignment.  You must cite/incorporate specific articles I tell you to in your paper.  Failure to do so will result in a deduction of points on this assignment. You must include a Works Cited with all the articles and film in MLA format.




1,400—1,500 words typed

Works Cited page (does not count toward length of paper); must be in MLA style

Times New Roman font

12-point font

1” inch margins on all sides


Include an original title for your film review

Notes (written or typed; must be turned in with final paper)

Documentary Review Sheet (will be provided; must be turned in with all other notes)





In addition to meeting the above requirements, you will be graded on your comprehension/ability to analyze a theoretical framework as well as the originality with which you apply this framework to your own film.  Please take copious notes while viewing the film. You may have to watch the film multiple times.  In fact, I strongly encourage you to do so.  Please keep all your notes because you will turn these in with the final draft of your film review.  I will also provide you with a note-taking hand-out (mentioned above) that must be turned back in on top of all your other written and/or typed notes. Be neat in your transcriptions, for your own sake, in order to evaluate what you want to discuss in the written review later.


Structuring the Paper


Most critical analysis papers begin with a short summary of the work and then dive into the main points. Be concise in all parts of your analysis. Writing an outline (and following it) is crucial to remain focused on your topic and avoid summary or irrelevant description.


The following is only a sample outline for a critical analysis paper:


I           Introduction

  • Identify the work being criticized and the film-maker
  • Present thesis – main point about the work
  • Preview your thesis – what are the steps you will take to prove your argument?

II         Short Summary of the Film

  • Does not need to be comprehensive – present only what the reader needs to know to understand your main points

III        Your Topic

  • Your main focus will likely involve a number of sub-points – mini-theses you use to prove your larger point
  • This should be the bulk of your review – I want to read your analysis about the work, not a summary of the movie

IV        Conclusion

  • Reflect on how you have proven your main point
  • Point out the importance of your point of view
  • Note potential avenues for additional research or analysis of shortcomings you see in the filmmaker’s choices

Consider the following:

LOGOS: structure, organization, realism/realistic, real events, accuracy
PATHOS: emotion (more than just sappy, heart strings: fear, anger, self-righteousness), sentiment/sentimentality, over-sentimentality
ETHOS: credibility, believable/believability, possibility, likelihood, sincerity, good intentions or dubious/ulterior motives


** strengths = proper use of LPE

** strengths = illustrating or revealing certain logical fallacies

** weaknesses = improper use of LPE (= fallacies)

** WEAKNESSES = subtexts

Transcript (1) DocumentaryReviewAssignmentSheet DocumentaryFilmReviewAssignmentSheet