TIFF 2023: “The Critic”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A film critic plays a significant role in the cinematic world by providing an objective analysis of a film. That analysis should unquestionably be either negative or positive, but the language used should always be respectful, not to mention unbiased. What we are, what we believe in, what we want or don’t want should not influence our judgment of a work of art in any way. However, when we cross that fine line and enter the realm of power, do we really need to abuse it or should we remain grounded?

“The Critic” is a film that resonates with the current realities of the world we live in. Adapted by Patrick Marber from Anthony Quinn’s novel “Curtain Call” and directed by Anand Tucker, it revolves around two individuals on the brink of losing their careers. Jimmy Erskine (played by Ian McKellen) is an aging theater critic whose influence in the world of theater is so significant that his reviews can either elevate someone to stardom or shatter their dreams. His trademark is his biting and often disrespectful language, which he claims his readers expect. Nina Land (portrayed by Gemma Arterton) has just been hit by Erskine’s most vicious and hurtful criticism of her work, a critique that threatens to ruin her show and her career. She attempts to redeem herself by persuading him to change his review, but the offer he presents instead will shape their lives going forward.

From the very beginning of the film, Ian McKellen’s Erskine appears as a selfish, self-centered individual who expects everyone to bow to him simply because he is the most renowned theater critic. David Brooke (depicted by Mark Strong), the new editor of London’s Chronicle, is determined to revive the paper. Nina is an actress with potential who did not deserve the scathing criticism Erskine dished out. These three characters clearly highlight how different the world could be without power-hungry individuals like Erskine. When Erskine’s latest review turns into a nightmarish experience for both the paper and Nina, David takes the necessary steps as any responsible newspaper owner should. However, Erskine is far from pleased with the outcome of their meeting, as his sense of invincibility is threatened. He invites Nina Land to his home, making her an offer she finds difficult to refuse, unwittingly setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to their downfall.

“The Critic” is an unsettling and nerve-wracking film to watch. It’s hard to recall a recent film where the main character was as thoroughly unlikable and unsettling as Ian McKellen’s Erskine. There was nothing redeeming or amusing about him. Particularly, the scene where he presents his proposal to Nina Land is deeply disturbing, foreshadowing that once she agrees, there will be no turning back. His abusive nature will not stop until it has destroyed everything it touches. If you get the same sense of unease from the film as I did, it’s a testament to the excellent and thought-provoking screenplay crafted by Patrick Marber, providing the actors with material to deliver compelling performances.

With that said, “The Critic” is an outstanding and thought-provoking tale about the repercussions of our actions and how they can affect those involved. Engaging in blackmail or setting traps for others is one of the most deplorable things one can do as a human being, especially when exercising our right to freedom of expression. While we all have the right to express our opinions and to like or dislike something, we must never cross the line and inflict harm on others. Freedom of expression demands mindfulness and respect in our communication, and belittling others, whether like it or not, has no place in it.

%d bloggers like this: