GRE Reading Comprehension Passages: Movie Review Exercise

Recently, I recommended a British website for its excellent writing and penchant for GRE-style prose. Indeed, the sentence structure in some of the articles is as convoluted, if not more convoluted, than that found in a difficult GRE passage.

Whereas last time I referenced articles on art and literature, today I have excerpted a movie review. What really caught my eye is the phrase ‘thoroughgoing pragmatism’ which just happens to be an answer choice to a tough text completion in the Official Guide (pg. 314, Q17, answer choice I, for those of you at home). Hmmm…maybe the dude who wrote this review works for ETS.

Below, the first review is a second. This one has been pulled from the New York Times website and is a review of a movie about the two preeminent psychologists of the last 120 years, Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. At times the review sounds like a pretty involved text completion.

However, the point of both excerpts is not just to show you that difficult words come up in movie reviews. Today, we are going to try a little exercise. You may have noticed that certain words below are bolded. You may know a few, but probably not all of them. So let’s see if you can retain the words by following the exercises:

  • Read both movie excerpts, trying to guess the meaning of the words.
  • Open a browser to (or your preferred on-line dictionary). Look up definitions and read sample sentences.
  • Make flashcards for those words you are having the most difficulty with.
  • Study flashcards between 1-2 hours after completing the steps above.
  • Tomorrow, I’ll reveal in a separate post three practice GRE problems for these passages, so you can test your knowledge.


“The two campaign managers are Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, and the film would be worth seeing for them alone. Hoffman is mock-genial [two separate words] but unmistakably fierce, the man for the job; and Giamatti is sinister and snarling, but has a harsh lucidity that turns out to work as if it were a form of integrity. ‘Integrity’ is a big word in the film, much bandied about and always a sign of trouble. It’s not that it doesn’t exist even here, only that it can’t look much like integrity as we think we know it. When Hoffman gives Gosling a long eloquent sermon on the question of trust – he tells a story from the start of his career, when he refused to abandon an employer who looked like a loser – there is no way of deciding whether Hoffman is a good man reaching for a straight truth beneath all the angles and bluffs and façades, the simple certainty that allows him to finesse everything else, or whether he is just laying out a thoroughgoing pragmatism, asserting that trust is a basic currency of the trade, part of the operator’s arsenal, as long as you know where to place it.”

-London Review of Books

“Ms. Knightley’s facial expressions and bodily contortions seem deliberately drawn from the 19th-century iconography of hysteria. But if she is a revenant from an age before Prozac, Sabina is also an uncannily modern spirit, whose torments are as recognizable as her symptoms are outlandish. And Jung, as he gropes after ultimate meanings and obscure symbols, is surely one of us, an ambivalent inhabitant of the country Freud discovered. “A Dangerous Method” is so strange and unnerving precisely because the world it depicts is, for better and for worse, the only one we know.”

-A.O Scott,

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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!