Life Itself reminds audiences why we enjoyed Roger Ebert’s takes on film so much, and why he remained one of the most intriguing people in the movie industry until his death last year. He dominated the landscape of film criticism because he was simply the best; not necessarily the most elaborate writer, and not always the most agreeable in terms of his film tastes, but he wrote with such personality and confidence that made his words ring true. He was a man not on a high pedestal, but telling people his opinions and simply having them understand his perspective. He succeeded in that in every one of his reviews. Steve James’ documentary could’ve been a pat-on-the-back for the critic, but instead addresses those elements of his career while shining light on his personal troubles and the last days of his life. It’s mandatory viewing for fans of the great film critic, and proves that documentaries can remain most affecting within their subjects, not necessarily in their filmic style. This is a simplistic documentary, feeling more like a passion project for James, but he does his subject justice and provides a layered, compassionate look at a complicated man.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)