• Students will be responsible for completing four (4) essays. The assignments will be submitted in Canvas – due dates are listed in the course calendar.  These writing assignments are intended to require you to engage in critical thinking and logical reasoning as well as to further assist you in developing your written communication skills.
  • You will be required to view four films of your choosing, related to four broad topics: crime fighters, criminals, courts, and corrections. You will be required to submit essays reacting to and critiquing these films.  If you are unsure about a film or need suggestions, please ask for help.  The university library has some films available on disc and online.  In addition, the student may use whatever means they have available to them to access films.
  • Films should be chosen to show how particular aspects of the criminal justice system are portrayed in film. You are required to submit essays reacting to and critiquing these films.

Each Essay Should Include Two Parts – Reaction and Critique


  • A reaction paper is just what its name suggests—a paper explaining your reaction to a film.  It may be like a review, because your reaction may involve judgment or evaluation; it may be like an analysis, because your reaction may focus on a particular character, relationship, scene, or film technique.  It may also be like a journal entry, in that it presents a personal reaction rather than an attempt to provide either definitive judgments or detailed analysis.  It differs from a journal entry, though, in that it is a more formal essay, prepared for an audience.  
  • Like any good essay, your reaction paper should develop one primary idea or perception, support it with specific evidence (usually references to individual shots or scenes), and present both ideas and evidence in clear language and a logical order. 
  • The first part of the essay should include a reaction to each film. These essays should reflect a careful consideration about what you think or feel about what you have seen.  While you are watching the films, think about the following questions:
    • How do you feel about what you are watching?
    • What do you agree or disagree with?
    • Can you identify with the movie or characters in the movie?
    • How do you evaluate the situation in general?
    • What did you find striking, illuminating or peculiar about the film?
    • Does it help you get an historical sense of the period it depicts, and if so how?
    • To what genre does the film belong?


  • The second part of your essay should include a critique of the film, in terms of how well the film portrayed particular aspects of the criminal justice system,. While you are watching a film, think about the following questions:
    • In what ways does the film accurately portray the aspect of criminal justice it depicts, in your opinion?
    • In what ways does the film fall short of recreating the aspect(s) of criminal justice it depicts, in your opinion, and what would you have done differently?
    • If you did not know anything about the criminal justice system, how would this film (good or bad) affect your perceptions about the criminal justice system, criminal justice practitioners, crime victims, offenders, and/or criminology?

Paper Requirements:

  • 2-4 pages in length
  • Double-spaced, 12-point font, Times New Roman
  • Must be produced in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx format)
  • Cover page should include paper title, category (crime fighters, criminals, courts, and corrections), your name, course name, and semester; this does not count towards page length
  • Pages should be numbered
  • You should identify the film’s title, director, and date of release, as well as principal actors. Throughout the paper, the film’s title should be italicized
  • In-text citations and a reference page should be included; these should be formatted according to APA guidelines (7th edition).
  • Proofread carefully: grammar, spelling, mechanics, citations, etc. will be part of your grade
  • Must be submitted as an attachment in Canvas in the assignment section
  • Since a reaction paper describes your own reaction to a film, it is appropriate to use first person (I, me, my, mine) occasionally.  But remember that the paper is primarily about the film, not about the writer
  • Avoid the frequent problem of too much plot summary! Any viewer can get the plot from viewing the movie, so if your paper devotes too many words to plot summary, there’s not much “value added” in the paper.  This reaction paper will offer little to a reader if it mainly retells the story.

A few different techniques can help you avoid retelling the story.  

  • One way is to choose a narrow thesis, focusing on a single scene, for example, or perhaps on a secondary character.  If you focus on a central theme or major characters, you’re more likely to follow them through the whole film, and tell the whole story again.  
  • Another technique is to stress topic sentences in your paragraphs—make sure that each paragraph has a point to make, that it’s not just advancing the plot.  
  • A more mechanical approach is to arbitrarily limit your plot summary to a single short paragraph.  
  • A more psychological approach–though not always appropriate–is to assume that your reader has already seen the film, and that you don’t want to waste the reader’s time with what he or she already knows.

Grading Criteria for Film Critique/Reaction Papers

Content (up to 50 points)

  • Is there a clear-cut thesis statement that controls the direction of the paper and limits the scope of the ideas presented in it? 
  • Are the ideas presented in an orderly sequence that makes sense? 
  • Does the paper have a lively introduction that invites further reading?
  • Does the paper have a definite conclusion that draws the ideas together and leaves the reader satisfied?

Development (up to 25 points)

  • Are the ideas explored adequately within the limits established by the thesis statement?
  • Does the paper avoid excessive plot summary?
  • Does the paper offer sufficient detail or enough examples drawn from the film itself to clarify major points and make them convincing? 
  • Is the paper’s language accurate and effective in making ideas and evidence clear?

Mechanics (up to 25 points)

  • Does the paper demonstrate control over the essential elements of grammar? 
  • Are the sentences clear and smooth? 
  • Has the paper avoided major grammatical errors (such as sentence fragments, comma splices, fused or run-together sentences, subject-verb agreement errors, verb form errors)?
  • Does the format of the paper match the instructions for the assignment (proper heading; double spacing; underlining or italicizing of film titles; inclusion of movie’s date, director, and main actors)?

View Rubric

Film Reaction Essay
Film Reaction Essay
Content view longer description/ 50 pts
Development view longer description/ 35 pts
Mechanics view longer description/ 15 pts
Total Points: 0

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