Of all the film genre’s out there none offer the most diversity as the documentary. If focused on the right subject and executed in an interesting and unique fashion they make for some of the most compelling films around. The latest Life Itself brings one of the most fitting subjects for film that of the life of famed writer and film critic Roger Ebert. Everyone knows who Ebert is, but most may not know the whole story, but that is all about to change.
Life Itself explores the impact and legacy of Roger Ebert's life: from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism and his nearly 25 year-run with Gene Siskel on their television review show, to becoming one of the most influential cultural voices in America, and finally to Roger's heroic and inspiring battles with cancer and the resulting physical disability. If you were old enough to watch TV and enjoy movies through the 80s then you no doubt watched “At the Movies” hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The show became a mainstay for fans and many made their decisions on which films they wanted to see based on their opinions. What most didn’t know was that was just a part of the story of Ebert’s impressive career and legacy. This film spotlights all aspects of his career from the early days as a teenage writer through his TV and writing career as well as his battle with cancer. The structure of the film is cleverly crafted to not only show all aspects of his life but does so in a unique way. On one side you have the archival footage, images, and current footage to bring things together to see his life and career unfold before your eyes while never letting you forget the passion was still intact until the end. On the other side was the narration by voice actor phenom Stephen Stanton whose spot on impersonation of Ebert has to be heard to believe. While listening to this film it is impossible to tell where Ebert starts and Stanton takes over making for an additional layer that was unexpected. While his entire career is intriguing it was his relationship with Siskel that makes for some of the best moments. On TV fans witnessed their bickering in disagreement over their opinions of the film they were reviewing, but knowing the issue behind the camera puts those arguments in a whole new light. It is impressive how at odds these two men were all while having such respect for one another in their own way.
Whether you agreed with him or not, Roger Ebert made it possible for so many people to stand up as a reviewer and get their own voice heard. His years of appearing on Howard Stern and other shows allowed him to step out of the TV persona we all knew and loved, but this movie takes you on that untold journey to all the varying sides of this boisterous film opinionated icon. Roger Ebert may have left us too soon, but Life Itself serves as a love letter that not only tells his story, but keeps his life, work, and legacy intact and deserves two big thumbs up.