Life Itself

Rated 5.0

Roger Ebert saw a lot of documentaries during his reign as the world's most renowned movie critic. It's only fitting that one of the last things he did in his life was take part in a documentary that will certainly stand as one of 2014's best. This gives us the full story on Ebert, retelling the days before he started writing about movies for a living, his Pulitzer Prize-winning career as a critic, and his painful, yet amazingly graceful, last days. Director Steve James had permission to film Ebert in his hospital rooms as he battled cancer. It's hard to watch what he's going through, but it's inspiring to see how Ebert handled his obstacles. Oh sure, James probably shows us some of the more pleasant, upbeat footage, but Ebert's passion for life was a most genuine one, and no trick editing is required to show us that. The film touches upon two very important partnerships in Ebert's life: his marriage to Chaz Ebert—who appears often in the film—and his work with the late Gene Siskel. While watching the movie, it seems as if Roger Ebert is narrating, but the voice is that of an impressionist named Stephen Stanton. The resemblance is incredible, as if Roger somehow found his voice again in time to tell us his story. This is sweet, scary, funny, sad and surprisingly entertaining and uplifting. It's also revealing (I didn't know he was an alcoholic), uncompromising (some of the medical moments are very hard to watch), and brutally honest. While I give it my highest endorsement, I think Ebert would've given it 3 and a half stars out of 4. Hey—he was a tough critic. (Available on VOD, and iTunes during limited theatrical release.)