Put together by director Steve James Life Itself looks at the life of the world’s most famous film critic Roger Ebert. The film explores not only how he made the profession of film critic an actual occupation but also documents the final stages of his battle for life.
Life Itself is not an easy documentary to watch. Now that might be a surprising comment for a film that seems like it would largely champion, Roger Ebert, a film critic who most would argue already had a big enough ego without a fluff piece to champion him after his death. That’s where Life Itself comes to the fore, because this is not a documentary that is a fluff piece and it certainly doesn’t champion the man that many would know as the person who became the public face of film criticism right around the world.
Most people would know Roger Ebert as the man who sparked The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show’s Greg King to say ‘on the day Roger Ebert died all film critics moved up a spot on the rankings.’ Whether you liked Ebert’s style or not he was the number one film critic in the world, a lot of people respected his reviews and criticism on films and nearly every film critic wished that they had the popularity and readership that he had. It is for that reason that it is surprising that Steve James took such a warts and all view with Life Itself. While the film praises Ebert for his work it also reveals him as a deeply floored man whose ego often got in the way of his friendships and life itself.
At times Life Itself tells the story of a dirty side of Roger Ebert. The hard drinking early days of his writing career and then the dirty war that he and his fellow co-host Gene Siskel waged against other while working together. Life Itself reveals that the pair hated each so much that they loved each other… or did they? Some of the footage that James has dug up showing the pair quipping at each other between takes on their hit shows seems to suggest the exact opposite and this becomes compelling viewing for the documentary’s audience.
The hardest part to watch of this documentary although is watching the modern day footage as Ebert spends his final months with his beloved wife Chaz Ebert. Ebert’s life is winding down and the physical condition he is in is going to be a tough watch for anyone that has been a fan of his over the years. Harder to watch though is the fact that it seems that at times James has his eyes so fixed on the prize of completing the film that he pushes Ebert beyond what he is capable of doing physically.
Life Itself does provide an in-depth look into one of the most colorful film critics of all time. It documents his rise to one of the world’s most recognizable film critics and the fact that he never gave up on his dream to be a screenwriter despite the fact that his best effort was Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Director Steve James’ dogged determination as a filmmaker does mean he captures some things that makes Life Itself a hard documentary to watch but at the same time makes it a film that you can’t look away from.
Directors: Steve James
Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Steve James
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: 14th November 2014