James Halcomb reviews the film about one of the most legendary film critics of all time.
It is funny that I knew fairly early on in life what I really wanted to do and that was talk about movies. Siskel & Ebert were equal influences on me as a child. Unfortunately, in my youth there was no internet and I was extremely unsure of myself and never pursued writing, other than in random journal entries. It hasn’t been until the internet explosion of blogger and self-styled critics, and my late 30’s that I have jumped on the bandwagon. While watching the documentary about Roger Ebert’s life, and equally his death in 2013, interestingly called ‘Life Itself;’ I felt renewed in my passion of writing and living.
Humorously enough, I saw this documentary about a film critic and his love for the movies and the theaters where they play, in the comfort of my bed, instead of a theater. While this did feel a bit off, the film did not play in theaters here very long or at a convenient time for me. So sitting at home, the film revealed to me not only Roger Ebert’s importance as a critic and television personality, but his life with his wife Chaz and his interpersonal relationship with the film industry (like Werner Herzog and a particularly emotional interview with Martin Scorsese).
As the documentary pushes forward, the film become less a cinematic interpretation of Ebert’s same titled biography, but the portrait of a man with a debilitating illness and the effect it has on his family, his friends and ultimately, his legacy.
Every person that is interviewed has at least one tearful moment; you haven’t seen heartbreak until you see tears from the guy who brought us ‘Raging Bull.’ Ebert’s career high’s and its very few lows, are highlighted with gusto. The stories provided by friends and co-worker are larger than life, as was the man’s personality and ego.
His competitive streak with fellow, “At The Movies” host, Gene Siskel is exhibited through some great highlights of their time on television together. One highlight is actually at the end of the film. Hilarious and profanity-laden outtakes and off-the-cuff banter between the two, highlighted just how much they loved to get other one another’s skin, but also how much general affection they held for one another.
Director Stephen James completed the film following Roger Ebert’s death. By using two powerful parallel narratives, he gave us a tiny peek into his life and work, and especially his relationship with Ebert’s wife, Chaz. I give the film 4 stars and highly recommend it. You can find “Life Itself” running on multiple streaming services and is running on CNN.