This post starts a series discussing Rex Reed’s review of If I Were You (2013), a film which critics generally did not take to. Of the many negative reviews of this movie, Reed’s stands out to me as expressing the most dislike. His review is useful for analyzing some features of argument; recognizing the elements involved in creating and delivering an argument will help you argue (and therefore write) more successfully. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you may want to stop reading this for now until you’ve had a chance to watch it. Being familiar with the film will help you understand Reed’s argument and its components.
Reed is a fairly well known movie critic, currently writing reviews for the New York Observer.
Reed’s opening sentence is, “The people responsible for a hapless load of bunk called If I Were You can only be described as delusional.” This provides an opportunity to look at an element of argument called tone.
Tone concerns the both the way you aim to present yourself to others, as well as the way they ultimately perceive you. When presenting an idea in speech or writing, you ask yourself, “How do I want to come across to others?” When hearing or reading the ideas of others, you ask yourself (often unconsciously), “How is this person coming across?”
Tone is usually described by adjectives. To me, the tone of Reed’s opening sentence is negative, harsh, disparaging, insulting, and entertaining. Did Reed intend to come across this way? Most likely, as we’ll see when we look at the rest of the review.
Closely tied to tone is an element of argument called ethos. Ethos concerns your determinations about the author’s character, credentials on the topic, trustworthiness, and ultimately, persuasiveness. You can ask yourself a number of questions to arrive at your conclusions about the author’s ethos.
First, is the person making the argument qualified to speak or write on the topic? In the case of this movie review, we can say that yes, Reed is qualified to offer his opinion. He has been a professional movie critic for decades, writing for respected publications.
(Let’s note that a lack of credentials on the part of the author does not necessarily mean that the argument isn’t worthy of consideration. A person with no formal schooling or experience in history could still be capable of writing a cogent analysis of a given historical event. But a solid track record of education and experience on a topic gives the writer a measure of instant credibility.)
Other ethos questions include, Is this person trustworthy? Is the argument well-supported? Has the author thought through both sides of an issue? What are his motivations? Does he appear to be a person of good sense? If you have already read through Reed’s review, you may be able to answer some of those questions at this point.
That’s probably enough for now. More excitement to come, don’t worry.