The Critic is an incredible drama in 1930s Britain about a closeted theatre critic, played by the amazing Sir Ian McKellan. The period film shows the cutthroat nature of the entertainment industry at the time, and how trying to survive in it causes a terrible chain of events that affects many lives, both in and out of show business. Here’s my The Critic review about a movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival that could’ve been great, but is lacking.
Please note that The Critic review is spoiler-free.
The Critic Is About Enduring Criticism At The Expense Of All Else
The Critic focuses on many characters, namely Jimmy Erskine (Ian McKellan), a high-brow drama critic for a prestigious newspaper, who is infamous for making or breaking actors’ careers. On the end of his more critical reviews is Nina Land (Gemma Arterton) a struggling actor, frantic with the anticipation of Jimmy’s less than favourable takes on her talent. Adding to this mix is David Brooke (Mark Strong) the new heir to the paper where Erskine works, who is looking to make some changes after taking over after his father’s death. This means trouble for the closeted Erskine, whose time at the paper is in jeopardy, with the changing of the guard.
The power dynamics in The Critic set the stage for a chain of events that drives the story forward. Brooke is Jimmy’s boss, while Jimmy holds the fate of Nina’s professional career in his hands. When his livelihood comes into question, Jimmy concocts a plan to get dirt on Brooke, in order to blackmail him into securing his place at the paper. When he finds a lack of such material, he decides to create a situation to put Brooke in a compromising position.
A Great Story That Rushes Itself Into Kind Of A Mess
The Critic sets up a great premise bolstered by even greater performances with some strong talent in front of the camera. However, the sequence of events and the dizzying pace at which they occur leave little room for reflection for the audience to even stomach these sequences. Jimmy involves Nina in his plans to blackmail Brooke and causes turmoil in her life when the morality of their actions comes into question. While McKellan’s Jimmy is in for a penny, in for a pound, the apprehension on Nina’s part creates even further conflict.
But the way the dominos fall, and how it impacts many more people in Jimmy’s and Nina’s orbit, is shocking and also at times, feels out of nowhere. Characters are introduced, and their motivations and development seemingly come simply to serve the new plot point that occurs moments before. The impact of those moments would be better served if it was set up, prior to the twist or plot point, instead of feeling like an afterthought that conveniently fell into place.
The Critic Review Is Bolstered By The Rock-Solid Performances
It’s a shame that The Critic doesn’t work better, given the immense on-camera talent. While it’s McKellan’s movie, Strong almost steals every scene he’s in. Playing an unscrupulous man with unquestionable ethics and values, Strong delivers a great performance in a role that could otherwise come off as corny or cheesy in the hands of a lesser performer. His unwavering personality is completely believable without seeming like a caricature. Not that McKellan himself doesn’t deliver.
Playing one of the most despicable characters ever, McKellan seemingly relishes the opportunity to play a horrible person, giving some of the cattiest one-liners in his career, with ease and enjoyment. However, the execution doesn’t serve him, as his motivations and character growth, also seemingly come out of nowhere. He’s horrible one minute, and then seemingly seeking redemption the next, with never a thought to the journey of getting there.
Arterton is masterful in her performance as an actress seeking fame and validation, only to realize too late that those pursuits pale in comparison to her real desires. Ben Barnes is also in this as Brooke’s son-in-law, a common everyman trapped in the inner workings of high society.
The Critic Doesn’t Live Up To Its Premise
Ultimately, The Critic review has to end without a recommendation for this period piece. The movie boasts of great performances but a story that doesn’t live up to them. The execution feels rushed and never allows for the twists to have an impact before moving on to the next scene. Despite some great elements, the movie fails as a whole to be a worthwhile watch.
The Critic premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023.
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TIFF 2023: THE CRITIC Delivers A Thriller That Falls Short Of Being Great
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 6.5/106.5/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 6/106/10
- Setting/Theme - 7.5/107.5/10
- Watchability - 7/107/10
- Rewatchability - 6/106/10