Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Criticwire Survey: Movie Walkouts

Features
February 10, 2014 9:40 AM
4 Comments
  • |
Hunger

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Movies By Bowes

Under certain circumstances, it's okay for a professional critic to abandon ship, but that should be a measure of absolute last resort. It's within bounds to write a piece about the experience, explaining clearly and unambiguously that the piece is not a critical assessment, but an account of an incomplete experience (however legitimate the reasons for needing to leave are). Under no circumstances whatsoever is it acceptable to write a rated/graded review of a movie one has not seen in its entirety. However certain one may be that they can fill in the rest of the blanks, the fact remains that the parts of the movie they missed are blank. It's a breach of the trust between reviewer and reader: if I'm reading a review of a movie, I trust that the review is of the entire movie, even if a great many details are elided or omitted in the interests of not spoiling. If I read a review of a movie where for whatever reason the reviewer says "oh, I missed the last ten minutes, but I know what happened," then that's a waste of the time spent reading the review, because it is not a review of the movie, it's a review of the first 90-something percent of the movie. Also valid, as I've done on a handful of unfortunate occasions, is simply not filing and eating any expenses incurred. (Note, I apologize to anyone who felt a slight sting at any of this; if it makes you feel any better, you're not the only person I was thinking of.)

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

Battlefield Earth

I've prided myself for never walking out of a film or shutting off a screener when I'm reviewing. And, yes, sitting through Frances Ha last year, really tested my integrity in this regard. The video link broke and I gleefully thought: "Oh well!" But I fixed it, and as it went on, I then thought, "Oh, Hell!" But sitting through a bad film is not a problem for me because it provides an opportunity to write a bad review, which can be great fun. I was once at a screening for Battlefield Earth when the power went out a half hour in, and we were all sent home. I was thrilled not to have to see the last 90 minutes, and I did not write the film up, because it just didn't make any sense (and I mean that in every possible way). I did once fall asleep for a bit during a theatrical screening of Random Hearts, which I was reviewing. But It was a snooze of a film, so I felt this was an appropriate critical response. And while I generally don't leave films I've paid to see even as a regular moviegoer, I did leave Leaving Las Vegas in the middle.

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

It is always acceptable for a critic to walk out of a screening, stop a disc, or terminate a stream; but it is also imperative to address this in the subsequent review. If it's a critic whose writing I know, respect, and trust, I'm fascinated as to what represents the breaking point for them. I personally don't walk out of films if I've been specifically assigned them for review, but that isn't something I would hold any other writer or critic to. I find it easier, though, to simply bear a terrible film through to the end because there are an inordinate number of wiseasses on the Internet, in comment sections, who like to second-guess critics, and who say things like "How can you judge something you didn't watch all the way through?" I like depriving trolls of ammunition. 

Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight

As for the first question, it's absolutely okay for a critic to walk out of a movie, because it's okay for anyone to do so. To me, there's a difference between walking out of a movie, and writing about that movie as if you didn't walk out at all. If, as a few folks have, you exit a movie, are upfront about it, and explain why you did, that's less problematic. (Granted, I don't think I'd consider that kind of write-up a review, as such.) The Kerr quote arguably applies as much to the recent debate about publications like The New York Times reviewing every single movie that gets a theatrical release, even if a good chunk aren't worth anyone's time and only get a release in NYC precisely to get written up in the Times. Those apples, as it were, are often considered rotten sight unseen, yet reviewers are forced to slog through them. Anyway, though I'm not prone to walking out (in spite of considering doing so sometimes), I think the circumstances of leaving a movie before it's over and writing about the experience can, sometimes, be appropriate.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

Pootie Tang

Barring some sort of extenuating circumstance, a film critic should never walk out of a movie he or she is being paid to review. Period. While I totally agree with Walter Kerr's assessment, the fact is that the job of a film critic is not simply to determine whether a movie is "good" or "bad," but rather to document the art form. Walking out of a movie before it's over creates a situation where the critic might miss something notable -- or, just as importantly, something that may become notable in the future. For example, someone who walked out of Pootie Tang wouldn't understand its pivotal place in the eventually esteemed career of its maker, Louis CK. Or, as a more extreme example, imagine a critic who hated The Sixth Sense and left halfway though; that critic would never know what it was like to be blindsided by what became one of the most celebrated twist endings in cinematic history. If you do exit before the movie is over, you should not write about the film. At that point, any "review" only becomes an explanation/justification for leaving, which isn't really about the movie at all. The fact is, sitting through films, even when we hate them, allows us to understand the breadth of movies and those who make them more completely, which in turn better equips us to document, analyze, and explore this art form we all love so much. Given the choice between working outside in the blazing hot sun doing road construction or sitting in a comfy seat inside a climate-controlled theater with a big box of peanut M&Ms in my hands, watching the worst film ever made, I'll take the latter every single time. Having said all this, I should add that I personally wouldn't criticize a colleague who walked out of a movie too harshly. We have to sit through some pretty awful stuff. I know -- I endured InAPPropriate Comedy in its entirety.

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

Walking out of a movie is A-okay in my book. Hell, I don't believe I could have made it through Kuffs after its opening scene of Milla Jovovich prancing about in her underwear without inflicting some serious physical harm on my own person. But I draw the line at actually reviewing a movie (or even voicing a serious opinion of it to friends) without seeing it in toto. I was recently annoyed by a friend of mine who pronounced how awful the admittedly divisive Saving Mr. Banks was a few moments before admitting he walked out of it midway through. I may not agree with you on a film, but you sure lose my respect on the matter when you confess you didn't see it in its entirety. So yeah, Banks played fast and loose with the mythology surrounding "Uncle Walt" (what historical movie hasn't). But embedded within was a wonderful subplot about a little girl and her relationship with her alcoholic dad that recalled Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was worthy of some consideration.

Many years ago, my mind was blown by Friedkin's explosive shock ending to To Live and Die in L.A., a movie that had up to that point seemed like a generic '80s policier with the usual reckless, rule-bending protagonist at its center. Ever since then, I've learned that on rare occasions a film can subvert the expectations it set up to deliver something transcendent. That one-in-a-thousand movie makes sitting through countless turkeys well worth it.

Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit

No matter how horrible a film is, it is our job as film critics to watch the entire film if our intention is to review the film. We have absolutely no right reviewing a film that we did not watch in its entirety. However, that does not mean a film critic cannot write about said film, as long as they are open and honest about not watching the entire film and do not critique (or grade) the film. If I refuse to watch a film in its entirety, then I am not going to dedicate any time to writing about the film. To paraphrase the famous aphorism: no publicity is the worst publicity a film can get. 

Sean Chavel, Flick Minute

Dirty Girl

Do not see what the big deal is, as long as a critic doesn't habitually walk out of movies. I walked out of Zack Snyder's Watchmen, and my only regret is that I didn't walk out of Sucker Punch instead. This weekend I re-read Roger Ebert's review of Tru Loved, and find it all the more hilarious when he reveals at the end that he stayed with it only 8 minutes. Actually, I did walk out of a movie in 2010 after only 8 minutes, it was Dirty Girl with Juno Temple. And I decided not to write about it. 

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, Periodical

For me there's a fairly simple answer to this question; if you've agreed to watch it for an editor, then you stay. I've only ever walked out of one film, but it was for my own site, and I didn't write about it. That said, I have written about the act of walking away from the film in question, which is in it's own way a form of recorded critique. 

Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fanboy

Well for me I've always been one to stick it out to the bitter end. I've never walked out of a screening and taken a lot of lumps waiting out a sizable number of terrible, horrible, no good very bad films. Also I feel that even if something seems rotten halfway through I'm always going to hold on to the hope that there will be something redeeming or worthwhile near or at the end. It may not make film in question a winner but hopefully there's something that will right the boat.

It's the responsibility of a critic to take in the whole experience and, sometimes painfully, process that into a review. Now I've turned off dozens of stinkers I've started on Netflix, but that's considered "off-the-clock viewing" and titles I am not tasked with reviewing. As the great Huey Lewis once said, "Cool is a rule but sometimes bad is bad" and in this situation I spin that to mean that no one sets out to make a bad film, it just somehow goes sour. Again it's our job to evaluate the whole of it and not part, otherwise we should just write our reviews based on the trailer. 

Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma, cinevertigo

I try not to do it, but sometimes enough is enough. The last time I walked out from a movie theater (and in a film festival) was watching Arirang. And, of course, I wrote about it, very angry, (in Spanish).

Josh Larsen, Filmspotting, Larsen on Film

In principle, I'm opposed to walking out of a movie and then reviewing it, but I can't say I've really been forced to make this decision myself. The closest was when I spent a good 20 minutes looking at the floor during a Saw movie. I did still review that.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I'm of the opinion that it's never acceptable to walk out of a screening or to turn off a screener if you're writing a review of the film, but if you're just watching the movie to watch it, I suppose that's more of an individual decision. I've never actually walked out of a screening in my life, or even a movie in general that I've gone out to see, though I will admit to not paying particularly close attention to screeners at home if it became clear that I was never going to write anything about them. It's a judgment call in the latter case, but for the former, we really don't have that hard of a job, so I think we should stick it out and not get up and leave. At least, that's what I'll continue to do.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

I have never walked out of a movie I was reviewing. That does not mean I haven't wanted to! But I feel an obligation to see it through, however difficult that can be. Sometimes, things can surprise you; while it's doubtful an awful start can pull a 180, maybe there's a nice performance or a decent scene that deserves note. Or maybe things will get even worse which, if it really gets me crazy, can provide some inspiration as I'm writing. If I'm not reviewing, obligatory bets are off. Life is short, some stuff is unwatchable and, to forewarn others, I may confess an early departure in a passing comment on my show. But whole sight not seen? No review.

Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin

I'd like to say it is okay, but I have turned off a few screeners and tried to alter my coverage of them, i.e. tried to not write about them, which has worked so far. I've not walked out of a screening, although it has been tempting at times and I do think it would be okay. I admire those who can cover (endure) everything. I don't think it is okay to write about it however, unless the writer emphasizes that he/she did not watch the entire picture.

John DeCarli, Film Capsule

I can appreciate Kerr's quip, and indeed I feel I've started to formulate an opinion about half-way through a film, but I still try never to walk out of a theater or shut off a movie before it's finished. (If I were writing about a movie, I would never not watch the whole thing.) Part of this instinct is noble: to give a film a chance, to be fully armed to join a discussion on it. But if I'm being honest, a bigger part of my desire to always sit through the whole film comes from an obsessive cataloging instinct fueled by sites like Mubi. I can't give a film a star rating to add to my ever-growing tally without sticking it through to the bitter end.

Michael Pattison, idFilm

Policeman's Wife

Well, how many films can you name that have a bankrupt opening 30 minutes and then get better enough to be worthy of discussion? I see those sustained bouts of negativity when folks do individual Tweet-alongs and think, What's the point? It's completism run amok.

Is it okay to walk out of a film? Of course it's okay. No job needs to be unduly punishing, and we have to find ways to sustain and renew enthusiasm and energy levels when wading through what is -- let's be honest -- an absolute swamp of mediocrity. You often see the trades doing it -- paradoxically, it's good news for the filmmakers because it means the film won't be reviewed at all (i.e., panned). Time's scarce; at festivals, when multiple films screen simultaneously, there's little use sticking around -- better to check out some other fare. Critics should walk out knowing that doing so is a) a statement in itself, and b) precludes them from reviewing the film in full. Incidentally, I lost my walk-out virginity only in November, when I gave time to the first ten chapters of The Policeman's Wife before calling it a day. Never thought I'd feel as guilt-free and liberated when I felt the cold air of the lobby hit my face.

John Keefer, 51 Deep

The only film I have ever walked out on, as a viewer, was Dumb and Dumberer. The prequel to one of the most beloved comedies of my generation was so excruciatingly bad, so bereft of merit, so unbelievably terrible that me and my friend Matt could no longer endure so we snuck into Hollywood Homicide. I may never know if I enjoyed Hollywood Homicide because the previous film was so ungodly awful or because it was actually entertaining but nevertheless if I was tasked with reviewing Dumb and Dumberer I would have stayed through the whole abysmal mess just so I wouldn't feel guilty and also so my review could have more examples of the almost inhuman capacity of that film to suck. It's your responsibility to sit there and take it. You may have reached the point where you know full well that there's no way for the film to win you over and at that point your brain usually shuts down or diverts itself with other random thoughts so really you're not seeing the film so why not just leave? No! Stay you must! Watch the whole God awful thing because somebody out there had a dream to make movies and that's how it turned out. Sad, isn't it? Happens all the time anyway.

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

While it's certainly acceptable to abandon a movie in the way that it's fine to stop reading a book that you're not enjoying, if it's your job to review the film, you're being paid (or given some stone-stepping substitute) to sit through and provide thoughts on the entire work. Readers, editors, etc. are relying on you for that service and you should follow through.

If you walk out, you haven't seen the film. You've seen X% of that film. Now, if review culture wants to shift away from this "completion as necessity" approach, as long as a critic owns up to theirs being an incomplete experience and readers understand the change, writing about the film might be fine. Sometimes you've seen enough and if you can articulate what made you want to get the hell out of there (which, considering the situation's power, would likely result in some entertaining vitriol), you can save yourself and others valuable mental angst.

Giving the film a grade, however, unless it's the ever popular "W/O," is probably something you shouldn't do, at least at this moment. We're so used to stars and letters to sum up a film's value that giving these familiar ratings to incomplete views doesn't feel right, especially when they'll be compared to ratings from critics who didn't leave. The right to grade should be reserved for those who've battled through the mess and until readers embrace the idea of a new format, the current system should continue.

Ryan McNeil, The Matinee

There's something counterintuitive about a critic walking out of a film (or shutting it off) before it's over. For starters, everything after that "fuck it" point could change the critic's perception on the entire film. What if critic walked away from a movie like The Usual Suspects, thinking "I got this"? Time is valuable, and you might not have to eat the whole apple to discover that it's rotten...but from time to time, films arrive that reward patience and consideration.

What's more, how is one able to publish a fully-formed opinion of something they didn't fully experience? Going on record with "It bored me" or "I couldn't finish it" is one thing, but to build an entire critique on something that wasn't fully considered is disrespectful and disingenuous. The work took months to complete, the critic can't put in a few hours? Which brings me to the most important part: It's your job.

Every job comes with parts that employees don't want to do. Even people working their dream jobs find that it comes with details they'd rather ditch. If a critic can watch one hour of a two hour film and call it a day, why can't a processing clerk finish 2/3 of a spreadsheet and turn it in? You'd get grumpy if your cashier at McDonalds forgot your fries, but would you be less grumpy if they said "You got your Quarter Pounder, McNuggets, and McFlurry though."


Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Tell me any other job, ever, where it is okay to clock out early just because things are a bit difficult, and then actually brag in a public forum about the fact that you did. The only way that works is if you're your own boss, and increasingly in the film writer world, people are. A critic being paid to review something, whether on an individual piece basis or salaried position, is insulting his employer and readers by walking out. As someone who has mopped up urine for minimum wage, I feel like some perspective is needed about how difficult it is or isn't to sit in a screening room relative to other ways of making a living.

But I can't be as militant about it as I used to be, because so much of criticism now is people with self-sustaining blogs trading on their personalities. If Jeffrey Wells, for hypothetical example, walks out of a movie because of some irrational dislike of the main character's clothes, it's part of the appeal of reading him. But if the New York Times paid you to see a movie and write about it, you do not walk off the job unless there's an emergency -- same as with any other job.

Oh, there is one other exception -- you're at a festival, the movie you picked starts off looking like a dud, and if you leave now you can pick something better that starts in a few minutes.And yes, you absolutely must disclose it. And do your damnedest to ask around and find out what you missed.


'Her'
'Her'

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: Her

Other movies receiving multiple votes: Stranger by the LakeInside Llewyn Davis, The LEGO MovieLike Father Like Son.

Features
  • |

4 Comments

  • Kathleen Carroll | February 13, 2014 3:23 PMReply

    I've long forgotten the name of the movie, but it was one of those cases in which all the critics had to attend a night screening in a theater. To say the audience was restless is an understatement. I was all but overcome with boredom when I heard Pauline Kael announce in a very loud voice "Life is too short" as she flounced out of the theater. Her exit line, which must have been heard by even those critics in the audience who had been dozing off, left everyone chuckling except the publicist.

  • Bill Thompson | February 10, 2014 11:24 AMReply

    I'm opposed to waking out of movies in general. If you're getting paid I see no reason whatsoever why that person should walk out of the movie. Be a professional and finish the movie (of course as with anything professional, exceptions need be made for things like sickness, pregnancy, or any sort of life level emergency).

    In general though, I think it's an issue of respecting the art and the artist. A group of people have made a work of art for your consumption. You need not love their film, like their film, or hate their film, but at the least you owe it to the artist to give their work respect. Watching the entire film does that, and for me it's a rule that should not be deviated from.

  • Robert Fuller | February 12, 2014 1:02 AM

    Critics don't get paid for every movie they watch, just for the ones they review (and I assume they watch the entirety of those). Do you sit through every movie to completion, even the ones that are obviously terrible? I sure don't. Not every movie deserves respect.

    Really, I don't know why this is even an issue worth discussing.

  • dan | February 10, 2014 9:57 AMReply

    If I got paid to watch films, man i'd watch anything, I'd only ever leave to throw up. I'll leave you with that.

Email Updates