Film critic Peter Rainer reflects on a 30-year career


Peter Rainer, noted Christian Science Monitor film critic, Bloomberg News columnist and reviewer for NPR’s FilmWeek, reflects upon his three-decade career in “Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.”

Rainer, who was also a film critic at the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, has divided the nearly 600-page collection into such chapters as “Overrated, Underseen” — he counts “American Beauty” and “Good Will Hunting” among the overrated; “Youngish Turks,” such as Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola; “Auteurs,” which features his ruminations on Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” Mike Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies” and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential”; “About Acting, Star Actors, and Acting Stars”; “Some Masterpieces,” including “The Night of the Hunter” and “Something Wild,” and “Comedies (Intentional and Unintentional)” — “Meet Joe Black” falls in the unintentional category.

Rainer will be discussing and signing copies of the book Monday evening at Book Soup ( in West Hollywood and at Vroman’s ( in Pasadena on June 19.


PHOTOS: Hollywood backlot moments

What drew you to film criticism?

I just always loved movies from very early childhood. I grew up in the New York area, and that was a wonderful laboratory for not only seeing new movies but also revivals. I always felt I had things to say about movies — that I wanted to talk about movies and write about movies. When I first read James Agee’s collected criticism when I was still in high school that sort of opened my eyes to the idea that one could be a real writer and be a film critic, that one could really be a kind of an artist writing about film in ways that were more than cookie-cutter stylistics. That sort of set me on my way.

Is it difficult in this era of shortened newspapers reviews, blogs and Twitter to be able to do any in-depth criticism?

Yes, because the opportunity to stretch out and really do justice to something, to try and be as definitive as you can is obviously limited by space considerations and other factors. But there is also something to be said here for writing with concision.

When I was starting out in the ‘70s as a critic, everyone felt that the more you wrote about a movie the better a critic you were. There were critics like Andrew Sarris and especially Pauline Kael who were terrific and wrote long, but a lot of times people who went on and on were just going on and on. James Agee, who for me was probably the greatest of all movie critics, if you go back and look at many of his reviews, they are not a whole lot longer than what you might get in a standard good newspaper today.


REVIEW: Movie reviews from the Times

Did you find while working on the book that your opinion about a movie had changed over the years?

I think ‘Apocalypse Now’ is an example — when it came out I was not severely impressed. I thought it was more a mess than a masterpiece. I am still not altogether sold on it, but I do think in retrospect looking at it again that it is the one Vietnam movie that really captured that hallucinatory craziness that was so much a part of what that war was.

Have your reviews stirred up controversy?

A: I don’t like movies that don’t deal with the consequences of violence. The book has a piece on my review of “Zero Dark Thirty,” which was a movie that obviously was very polarizing. It wasn’t only me who wrote reviews that were polarizing. But I did feel that the film was on some level, if not immoral then amoral, because it didn’t deal with the ramification of torture in any real sort of moral sense. It didn’t deal with or enlarge the whole notion of what torture means to society and the psyche of a country that is doing it.

I think it turned the hunt for Bin Laden into a glorified or not so glorified police procedural and I just kept thinking, “What would Costa-Gavras or Gillo Pontecorvo do with the same material?” A lot of people said, ‘How dare you?’ I also got interviewed by Al Jazeera English, who thought I did a good job.



Peter Rainer

Where: Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 7 p.m. Mon.

Info:; (310) 659-3110

Where: Vroman’s Book Store, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

When: 7 p.m. Wed.

Info:; (626) 449-5320