Life Itself (2014)

life itself poster 2014 movie roger ebert
8.5 Overall Score

A look at critic that most critics aspire to

Could use some streamlining

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Life Itself

Studio:  Kartemquin Films

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  July 4, 2014

MPAA Rating:  R


The horrors of cancer

Growing up in southern Illinois, Roger Ebert found his escape in journalism.  Rising as a critic, his love of movies propelled him to fame.  As writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert’s reviews became make or break moments for movies.  Ebert teamed with fellow critic Gene Siskel with their patented “Thumbs Up” reviews to become a force in Hollywood.  This film chronicles Ebert’s early challenges with alcohol, dealing with fame, finding love, and the battle for life itself.

Directed by Steve James, Life Itself is a documentary about the life of film critic Roger Ebert.  The movie takes its title from his 2011 memoir of the same title.  The documentary was short listed for the Academy Awards but did not receive a nomination.

Roger Ebert is the king of critics, and it is interesting to see his rise to power here.  Growing up, Siskel & Ebert were a mainstay and without the internet, it was the best way to learn about art house films and the films that everyone was seeing.  I didn’t always agree with Ebert’s reviews, and it is interesting here to try to determine what type of a person he was.


Ebert’s driving force

I found a lot of the early stuff about Ebert rather interesting.  His drinking, depression, and struggles with women just didn’t seem to mesh with the persona that he always presented in interviews and on his show.  With such a dark “beginning” for Ebert, it is amazing that through his struggles with cancer, he seems to keep a strong front.

Part of that strong front I feel is just for his wife Chaz Ebert who also is an interesting factor in Ebert’s development.  Ebert shocked everyone (who didn’t really know him) by marrying an African American woman  in 1992 when it wasn’t necessarily as common place as it is today.  You can see their relationship and part of the documentary’s power is seeing his cancer affected her and those around him.  The fact that he fought so hard shows his love.


BFFs (sort of)

Poignant to me, however, is seeing the relationship with Gene Siskel which is how much of the world knew him.  Outtakes from tapings and off camera debates showed that they had a rocky relationship that developed into an almost unspoken friendship.  The rivalry between the two was immense and it is stunning to think that reviewers could become “rock stars” like they did.

Life Itself isn’t an easy documentary to watch.  See the battle with cancer and how it ravaged the man is challenge, and it isn’t for everything.  The documentary itself could use some streamlining when it drifts off course on occasion and I would have liked a little more of a coda to Ebert’s death to see more of the outpouring.  It also leaves you wondering, would Ebert have given thumbs up to his own documentary?

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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