Documentary Review: Life Itself (2014)

Release Date: July 4th, 2014
Directed by: Steve James
Music by: Joshua Abrams

Kartemquin Films, Film Rites, CNN Films, Magnolia Pictures, 121 Minutes


Who didn’t like Roger Ebert?

Growing up, Roger Ebert, along with Gene Siskel, were two of the most influential critics on my young mind. With their show Siskel & Ebert, I was able to tune in weekly and see what these two greats thought about the movies that were currently playing at the cinema. Not only did it give me insight to many of the movies I wanted to see, but it educated me on the art of filmmaking and helped generate the lifelong love I have had with motion pictures.

Ebert’s death in 2013 was hard on all of those that watched him and read his words on a weekly basis over the years. He grew to be a sort of paternal figure to movie lovers, especially those of my generation. Certain people are often referred to as the “voice of a generation” but Roger Ebert was exactly that. Realistically though, he was a voice to many generations of film fans.

Life Itself was made with the cooperation of Ebert. Having become friends with director Steve James, over the years, Ebert allowed James to film the last chapter of his life. At times, the film can be hard to watch, as it gives an intimate view into Ebert’s struggles and medical issues during his final days. In spite of the pain and the hardships however, Ebert generally maintains a positive attitude even though he knows his days are running out and he’s too tired to fight anymore.

The documentary doesn’t just focus on the final days, it tells the story of Roger Ebert’s fantastic life. It interviews his family members, his closest friends and many film industry colleagues. It is a celebration of a great life. In fact, it is a celebration of life in general, which is why the film’s title just seems perfect. Granted, the title is also the same as Ebert’s autobiography but its meaning has so much more depth with the experience that is this film.

Life Itself is an enjoyable experience and it made me appreciate Roger Ebert, his voice and his accomplishments so much more than I already did. It was also fun going down memory lane and reliving some of his greatest television moments, as well as outtakes the public has never seen. The behind the scenes bickering between Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, censor free, was even better than their bickering on the show.

Rating: 8/10