The life and career of the renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert.The life and career of the renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert.The life and career of the renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert.
For those completely unacquainted with Ebert, Life Itself serves as a useful introduction to America's most recognisable film critic. Even for those who knew of him through his reviews or had some information about the cancer that took his jaw away from him several years ago, the documentary offers plenty of fresh insight into the man himself.
Close friends share their memories of Ebert from his youth, remembering how he made tough professional calls even as the editor of his college newspaper. We watch as he and his collaborator and frenemy, Gene Siskel, become the most popular faces of film criticism in the US. And the camera brings us – oftentimes relentlessly – into the final months of his life, as Ebert trades e- mails (ranging from chirpy to despondent in tone) with director Steve James and struggles through a particularly punishing bout of physiotherapy.
Through it all, a portrait of Ebert emerges – one made all the more impactful because James deftly avoids turning his film into a hagiography. Ebert's sharp wit, intelligence and passion for the movies shine through. But so does his tendency to be petty and competitive over the screen time and fame he must share with Siskel. His love story with his wife Chaz is coloured in by as much joy as tragedy, and James does not shy away from depicting the more banal, dignity-sapping aspects of Ebert's life as a cancer victim.
And yet, what makes Life Itself – based on and named after Ebert's memoirs – so compelling is its subtle conclusion: that we can all choose to be the heroes of our own stories, however small, ordinary or painful they might be. Ebert may not be fighting dragons or fording streams, but he demonstrates superhuman courage whenever he tries to drag his uncooperative body up a flight of steps. This is a hero who gets crotchety, fretful, and sarcastic – the kind of hero who's trapped in his body and forced to communicate through scribbling or notepads or an electronic voice-box, but still manages to reach out with his words and his hope, hanging onto himself and sharing his passion for cinema with film-makers and audiences alike. It's the stuff that movies are far too frequently not made of, and it's the most fitting legacy for a man who spent his life loving them.
- Dec 23, 2014