Life Itself is a perfectly poised documentary of Roger Ebert's life, focusing on his impactful years as a film critic and later years of declining health.
It is a bit odd to be a novice film reviewer hoping to break through as film critic and review a film about one of the most renowned and influential film critics of our time, Roger Ebert. In a way, I feel like Ebert would be supportive of it, exemplified by his nurturing of burgeoning directorial talent in the creative realm of cinema.
As a film critic, Ebert was one of the foremost film critics in the transparent era of media. With the documentary Life Itself we not only see Roger Ebert in his formative years of adolescence but his early years in print news in Chicago. This portion represents the first half of the film, with interviews with former colleague, who do not hold back. The second half of Life Itself goes into his time as the completing portion of “Siskel and ___” and his fervent fight despite failing health.
But I digress, Life Itself ponders back and forth between biography and documentary and that is one of its flaws. Clearly, Steve James was a moderate fan of Roger Ebert, or else he would have delved a bit deeper into the more negative aspects of his persona. Namely his drinking, which is barely acknowledged in drive-by fashion. The other flaw of Life Itself is its failure to capture a satisfying conclusion due to the failing health and death of Ebert to cancer.
Roger Ebert was a complex man with his positives and negatives, but he did influence and promote film significantly and any film buff should give Life Itself a watch. My only complaint is that the film maker did not find more people who could have spoke of the direct effect Ebert had on their career, in addition to Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and Ava DuVernay. In the end, I feel like for a comprehensive look at the man, perhaps it is best to reference his autobiography.