Film Review – Life Itself (2014)

Roger Ebert Gene Siskel

Ebert and Siskel weren’t always the best of friends…

Life Itself

Directed by Steve James

Featuring Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ramin Bahrani

Review by Jordan

Life Itself; the only thing Roger loved more than movies. A life that for him included a strong, devoted wife, adoring family, respectful friends and peers and even the occasional relished nemesis. As well as world travel and the search for a “cosmopolitan” lifestyle. Steve James’ (Hoop Dreams, Prefontaine) documentary feature explores not only the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and writer Roger Ebert, but his thoughts, intricacies, motivations and self-confessed flaws also, before ultimately focusing on his tremendous legacy, which paved the way for online film blogging and reviewing by passionate fans of the medium.

Fans who only wish to have half the wit, articulation, knowledge, perspective and passion as he did.

Pioneering small independent releases from the likes of Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven) and Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow) with the same energy he expelled both unabashedly praising and harshly criticizing the works of Martin Scorsese, Ebert reveled in a movie’s ability to create audience empathy and would allow himself to be surrounded in their imagined worlds, where other renowned critics with whom he shared a professional animosity would study either the intentions of the director or intensely scrutinize underlying themes or social relevance (most notably Pauline Kael).

Through both his written reviews for the Chicago Sun Times and heated discussions with the late Gene Siskel (their conflicting views on David Lynch’s pitch black Blue Velvet now etched in history) in their long-running television series Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, Roger placed an imprint as firmly in the minds of his readers as his star rests on Hollywood Boulevard.

His success didn’t always bring happiness however, with alcoholism and loneliness leading him to a dark mental state before Chaz and a family would turn his life around, supporting him until his battle with cancer finally ended with him passing away April 4 2013. He was determined until the end to release his ideas and feelings, and could find happiness in the company of his wife and the music of Leonard Cohen. He was the critic most in sync with the mind of the cinephile and wished all film-makers well, including and especially the makers of this documentary.

Life Itself then had the support of its subject, and it shows, with it’s personal approach being at once upsetting and uplifting with moments of deep pain followed by those of inspiration. The access and the insights are appreciated and the memories unforgettable.

Life Itself is unforgettable.

5 Thumbs Up out of 5


18 responses to “Film Review – Life Itself (2014)

    • It was extremely personal, but wasn’t ever emotionally manipulative, and I appreciated that it showed Rogers less appealing traits as well as his outstanding contributions to the arts.

  1. Loved it! What an amazing life he led and I was so surprised to hear Gene Siskel was such a playboy!

    • Gene was a massive surprise! It really came out of nowhere! Not knowing much about Rogers private life and influences before this either I found it such an eye opener.

      • I know. He was always such an academic on the show. The cool thing about Roger is I bet if we met there are few topics we would agree on but I always respected him. And then to see the end of his life and how he used his writing as his voice it was really moving.

  2. Good review Jordan. For anybody who has ever looked up to Ebert, it’s both lovely and frustrating. However, definitely the kind of movie Ebert himself would have been happy to review, let alone watch.

    • Thanks mate. That’s right – it’s at times a challenging watch as the less flattering moments of his life are revealed but ultimately its rewarding and essential.

  3. There has never been a documentary that moved me more than Life Itself. Roger Ebert was the one who, along with many aspiring movie buffs, made me become passionate for movies. Not only as a ways of entertainment, but as an art. It was quite fascinating to see another side of Roger and his relationship with Gene Siskel. He sure did have an incredible life.

    • Eddie and I started this blog soon after his passing, as he was the critic that shaped our love for film analysis and essays and we realised we could help continue the work he pioneered in our own small way.
      I’m glad this doc was made.

  4. I loved this doc. Solid review, too. I found myself in tears in a couple of parts, and laughing aloud in others. It’s on Netflix in America if anyone wants to see it!

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