Life Itself Review: This Review Is Biased

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For me, there is no way to objectively write about Life Itself. I’m sure a lot of critics writing about this tribute to the most seminal person in film criticism are having some similar issues and staring blankly at their keyboards.

Roger Ebert redefined our role in this world several times throughout his long career. There’s not a critic on the planet, professional or aspiring, that doesn’t have Ebert to thank for making this work widely recognized and important.

But Life Itself doesn’t just work as a pick-me-up for the Rotten Tomatoes era laden critics. It also serves as a celebration of an under appreciated aspect of perceiving art, the discussion afterwards. Much of the documentary is devoted to the passion Ebert shared with his At the Movies partner Gene Siskel, as well as the opinions that they didn’t share. Out came a shockingly beautiful, brotherly relationship that changed how people viewed film critics forever.

Still, this documentary is Ebert’s story. We start after the surgery that robbed him of his ability to speak, but thankfully not his voice. There’s a lot of difficult but inspiring footage of the late writer. Director Steve James gets in close and personal for much of Ebert’s final year. This is where Life Itself isn’t just for the film snobs out there. Ebert’s heroic battle with cancer and his devoted relationship to his wife Chaz, a woman who deserves admiration for seemingly infinite reasons, lend the film a heart behind all the harsh words said about various films throughout.

Life Itself is a film made to make you celebrate life, just as Ebert did for most of his time here. It is a reminder of how much good there is amongst the turmoil that fogs up every day existence. For that, it is the most inspiring film of the year.

As for us film critics, Ebert didn’t believe that the age of the Internet was killing us off. He saw it as a renaissance, according to the film. How could he not? He himself took advantage of the new medium more than many other critics his age. His audience grew and his opinions reached a new level of significance.

Ebert embraced the discussion. He may not have budged often, but always contributed to the cultural impact of every movie he reviewed. Life Itself wants us to continue to fight and speak over each other about the movies. In a world with more critics than ever before, the discussions are louder than ever. All you have to do is log onto Twitter and follow a bunch of critic to see that. This is what Ebert lived for and what he helped the film community achieve.

Now, the tough part of this review. Life Itself was one of the most personal movie going experiences of my life. Roger Ebert has been my hero since I started writing and talking about movies at a more intellectual level. That’s where the bias comes from. I am eternally thankful to this man for building an atmosphere where I can write about movies every week for as long as I want.

Ebert and I share a passion for cinema, something that got us both through some difficult days. I have to thank Steve James for giving those who adored him a proper sendoff to one of our greatest inspirations. I have to thank Chaz for supporting a man that wasn’t always the easiest to live with. I have to thank Gene Siskel for lighting a fire under Ebert and showing the world what passionate criticism really is. As for Roger, thanks for passing on hope, strength, and freedom to our niche culture. The world, which includes my own, wouldn’t be the same without you. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty


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