Life Itself – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review
Roger Ebert is one of the two most famous film critics in the world. He had been writing about feature films for almost half the lifetime of feature films, and Life Itself is the documentary that tells us a little bit about the man who told us a little bit about the films we watched. The film deals mostly with the director interviewing Ebert, mostly by email, questioning him about his life. Ebert at the time had undergone another series of cancer treatments which were only partially successful, and it was sadly obvious that his remaining time was limited.
Life Itself shows us quick looks at Ebert’s youth, his beginnings in journalism in his high school and university days and his life as a film critic when he began working for the Chicago Sun-Times. It touches on some of his writing career and his interactions with Hollywood. We learn of his love-hate relationship with television partner Gene Siskel, and a little bit about how both men dealt with the cancers that ultimately claimed both their lives. Ultimately though the film focuses on Ebert’s illness and his marriage. If you didn’t know, Gene Siskel died from complications of surgery for a brain tumour in February of 1999. Roger Ebert died in April of 2013 after an 11 year battle with Ebert lived with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands that resulted in the removal of his lower jaw, costing him the ability to speak or eat normally. He continued to publish frequently both online and in print until his death. Ebert became quite public about his cancer, while Siskel was not.
Steve James, whose documentary Hoop Dreams was championed by Ebert, took on the project of Life Itself and turned it more into a tribute film and extended eulogy than pure documentary. When the film focused mostly on the final days of his life, it skipped a lot of the details that brought Roger Ebert there. An entire chapter of his life was skipped, as there was no mention of his teaming with Richard Roeper after Siskel’s death, and comparatively little was mentioned about his transition from television to blogging (and of course continued newspaper journalism) for his film reviews.
I found Ebert’s (and Siskel’s) reviews always enjoyable, and Life Itself was too, but one wonders how Ebert himself would have reviewed it.
Bottom Line: I’d still like to see an entire documentary on both Siskel & Ebert, as there was only enough to whet the appetite in this one.