"Life Itself" honors Roger Ebert's legacy


Josh Axelrod

Roger Ebert was truly the greatest film critic that ever lived. He left us in 2013, after valiantly fighting a decade-long battle with jaw cancer. We will never hear his passion-filled voice or read a newly-written Ebert review ever again — an extremely depressing fact for millions of people who grew up on Ebert’s expertise critique and relied on his reviews to justify all excursions to the theater. But a new film from veteran documentarian Steve James perfectly captures Ebert’s legacy in a warm, objective, and poignant two hours. Life Itself is a beautiful tribute to a man who loved the movies just like the rest of us.

For all unfamiliar with the subject of this documentary, Roger Ebert got his start writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. He soon assumed the position of head movie critic and held it from 1967 until his death. He also hosted a popular show with Gene Siskel, another wonderful film critic who died of cancer in 1999. The two had a loving and contemptuous relationship. Watching them spar and pounce on each other in behind-the-scenes footage is one of many highlights in the retelling of a colorful career. Despite the beauty and love that Ebert emoted he also had a pompous side that he never shied away from; neither does the documentary in its fair depiction of a difficult and often egoistic man.

Roger Ebert: “Look at a movie that a lot of people love and you’ll find something profound no matter how silly the film may seem.”


Eventually, the film reaches footage of Ebert struggling with cancer. This is not easy to watch with knowledge of the somber outcome. Still, the images of Roger with his loving wife Chaz are poignant and elegantly-stitched together. Additionally, the documentary contains interviews from Martin Scorsese, Ava DuVernay, Werner Herzog and others who detail Roger’s influence on pop culture and filmmaking. These interviews are genuine and illuminating.
Ebert’s sometimes brutal honesty and extraordinary writing talents actually earned him a Pulitzer Prize — an unprecedented achievement for film criticism. I can’t think of a better way to honor this distinguished journalist. Ebert cherished cinema; his passion was unbridled. So his immortalization in such a phenomenal film only seems fitting. Life Itself undoubtedly earns “two thumbs up!”