An article in the March 2010 issue of Esquire by Chris Jones detailed the recent health issues of Chicago Sun Times film critic, Roger Ebert. At this point, he had had several surgeries to remove cancer, and this included his jawbone, leaving Ebert, a man known for voicing his opinion on television every week, silenced. This kind of event would have torn down anyone else, but Roger kept right on going and writing film film reviews until his death on April 4th, 2013.
Roger’s writing and the way he looked at film was inspiring, and upon reading the article in Esquire, I was compelled to start writing. It’s easy to say that Roger Ebert is one of the main reasons that I ended up writing today. From the way he wrote about movies, with a very simple language, not afraid to call a film crap, while still enjoying movies just for being entertaining. Ebert’s criticism was always above others in my mind. Unlike Pauline Kael, Ebert’s simplistic view was perfect, and will always be something that I strive for in my writing.
Life Itself gives a very full, and inspiring look at Roger Ebert. The film focuses heavily on Roger’s battle with cancer, and there’s plenty of moments where Life Itself is more like a wake than a film. Friends and family give interviews and tell tales of Roger’s start, through his alcoholism, to his love-hate relationship with TV co-star, Gene Siskel. It’s all here.
Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), gives Life Itself a perfect treatment by putting in parts of Ebert’s autobiography (also called Life Itself), footage from Ebert and Roper, and putting in some of Ebert’s criticism over the films he reviewed (Bonnie and Clyde, Raging Bull, Tree of Life). While Ebert’s story is stunning, it could have been a mess, as many documentaries are. There’s no denying the passion involved here, with all the love that James shows Ebert over the course of the film, there’s also no sort of illusion to hide the rougher parts of Ebert’s life, as several friends say Ebert wasn’t the nicest person.
Ebert’s voice was a strong one, and he was admired more than any other film critic out there. He used his popularity to bring attention to films that wouldn’t have otherwise, as mentioned by filmmaker Errol Morris and Ebert’s love for Morris’s film, Gates of Heaven. And Ebert’s voice wasn’t weakened by the loss of his jaw. Instead, he embraced social media and took to his blog and made it a massive journal filled with memories, social and film critique.
I’m not going to say that Life Itself is a perfect movie, there’s very seldom a perfect one. The films that really matter are the ones that feel and are felt by the audience. And while I might be bias in my review because what Roger’s life and writing meant to me, I felt that Life Itself did a great job at putting Roger’s life on screen, leaving back nothing and presenting a moving film that stands apart that most movies.
Rating: 10 out of 10.