Film criticism is cruel. Criticism in general is harsh, but film criticism is uniquely barbed. A novelist has complete control of their words, a painter controls his brush, and only a single musician can play the instrument or sing the notes. When critiquing them, a critic's words can be laser focused on the exact moment of artistry between the creator and the created. Responsibility is clear.
The medium of film doesn't have this precision. When an actor's words fail, who is responsible? The actor, for performing the line inadequately? The director, for not sufficiently priming the actor? The writer, for not providing the words needed for its effect? The editor, for not using the best line read? The casting agent, for putting the wrong talent in the role? Or was it the producer, who was unable to fund another day's worth of re-shoots? Responsibility is diffused among many creators making any criticism hit like a broadsword, not a scalpel.
Even when responsibility can be attributed to a single solitary error in judgment, the effects can often pollute the efforts of so many other creatives who did not falter in their responsibilities. For example, the amateurish performances of the Hmong actors are ruinous to Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. Blame for that rests at the feet of Eastwood himself, who insisted on casting authentic Hmong ethnic people, rather than trained actors. But acknowledging this doesn't stop it from undermining the writer's efforts to create real characters, the cinematographer's efforts to visually convey a story, and even Eastwood himself and his efforts to keep the audience engaged with his performance. A two star review of the movie would have a blistering sting on those whose contributions to the movie were nothing short of exemplary.
However, more often than not, the challenges with a movie are never so singularly obvious as they are with Gran Torino. A movie's failure to connect with an audience is often hidden in actions ranging from the initial decision making process in greenlighting the film to the marketing of the film, coloring audience expectations before they even enter the theater. Accurately accessing what works, what doesn't, what should have been done and, perhaps most importantly, what could have been done, is often an exercise in futility. For any other medium, critiquing the art is connected to critiquing the artist. In film, this isn't so.
While this could quickly devolve into an essay as to the importance of film and criticism itself, I'll save that for another blog. What's important to note is that film criticism, when broad in scope, will undoubtedly attack the undeserving. It is only with the precision of constructive feedback can responsibility for inadequate artistic choices be accurately assessed, and hopefully reassessed, by its artists. However, such criticism is almost uniformly missing, which means in the flailing arms of the critics, their broadswords will chop off the heads of the undeserving. It is cruel indeed.