[Thomson] knows pretty well everything there is to know about the art of cinema - though he might question that it is an art - and writes about it with passion, elegance and wit ... The directors whose work he considers include the ones we would expect - Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel, Jean Renoir, etc - but he also writes illuminatingly about those who might be considered lesser lights such as Nicholas Ray and Stephen Frears ... This book on the movies and the 'desperate poetry' their makers aim for is the best of its kind you can read this year, and probably many years to come.
It is highly personal, unapologetically opinionated, intermittently whimsical, charmingly idiosyncratic and above all deeply impassioned. It reads, at times, like a love letter to the art that has moved Thomson most. Or a eulogy dedicated to a tradition, and indeed a world, he fears may be on the verge of disappearing ... His regret, and disappointment, regarding the sins of the medium and its practitioners is sincere but so are his admiration and enthusiasm for their work. And attending to flaws as well as virtues isn’t just a moral or political impulse. It also makes a better story ... A Light in the Dark leaves many directors in the shadows. The book is focused on America and Europe, with only brief mention of directors from Japan, India and elsewhere ... Thomson does not deny — for there is no denying — that film directors are preponderantly White and male. He is right to fret about it. I do wish, though, the book had noted the fact that over the last decade or so of the Academy Awards, the best director category has been among the most eclectic and surprising ... That said, every reader will of course find omissions to protest; that’s part of the fun (Chaplin! Lubitsch! Tarkovsky! Kiarostami! The Coen brothers!). And there is no denying that this often beautifully written book is fun, no matter the aura of gentle mourning and foreboding that hangs over it.
... characteristically idiosyncratic ... While the book outlines developments in the director’s role over 100 years — technician, entertainer, artist, rock star, merchandiser — Thomson goes deeper to identify the wider effects of their work on the human psyche ... If he betrays a little queasiness about applying new standards to old films, he’s not blindly protecting toxic cinematic monuments either ... The pictures are smaller, maybe, but with this dynamic book Thomson is big enough to follow the cry of 'action!' wherever it leads.
Like much of Thompson’s work, it is a chatty book, written in a breezy style, filled with opinions but short on argument and analysis ... In essence, Thompson has created a highly personal pantheon of 'Great Directors,' just as earlier critics like Pauline Kael and arch-auteurist Andrew Sarris did half of a century ago. Such pantheons are always controversial ... entertaining but not particularly enlightening, heavy on gossip but light on serious argument. It has little value for anyone who is a serious devotee of film.
Thomson identifies as a curmudgeon, and his conversational tone is both authoritative and perplexing ... He asserts that filmmakers direct for “access” to women, and his single chapter on female directors suggests that the successful women are those who make 'male films.' His lone chapter on minority directors focuses on Spike Lee, who he describes as challenging and admits to not particularly liking. Thomson’s questionable opinions include the assertion that Woody Allen is a treasure who will eventually be recognized as such once again and his branding of Roman Polanski as a 'ruffler of feathers' ... Thomson’s own genius is his ability to remain one of the leading authorities on cinematic history, without shying away from the controversial. Cinephiles seeking provocative arguments will appreciate his work.
... provocative and engagingly eccentric ... if we choose to take those opinions as opinions rather than challenging them as truth, there is much to enjoy here ... Best of all, the prose sparkles with flamboyant wit.
Much of this material appears in greater detail in other, better books, including some of Thomson’s own works ... Thomson’s opinions are often based on debatable logic ... Curiously for such an acclaimed film critic, Thomson gets facts wrong ... While the author makes some progressive statements...he undercuts them with tin-eared comments ... A well-meaning but flawed book about legendary filmmakers.
... scattershot ... less a history than a series of essays that each nominally focuses on one or more directors before devolving into unconvincing metaphors and tangents ... There are insights to be found, about both directing and cinema in general ... While film snobs may enjoy Thomson’s roving insights on whether 'the cult of directors could be ending' those looking for a comprehensive history of directorial masters will be left wanting.