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Life Itself (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 118 minutes.

OK for children.

This gives a completely different picture of the rotund film critic Roger Ebert than most people probably had. The film starts with Roger in the hospital in bed, unable to speak. In fact his jaw is gone but the skin on his lower face is still there so he still has a mouth. But if you look closely you can see that under the bandage that appears to be around his neck, there is nothing behind it but air. Itís like looking out a window. His mouth is always open in what looks like a smile because there are no muscles or bone there to hold it in place.

Director Steve James was given extraordinary access to Roger by his wife, Chaz, to make this film while he was dying. After the opening scenes, the film flashes back to explain Rogerís life through quoting from his book of the same name as the film, and with interviews with the important people from his life, like Chaz and Gene Siskelís widow, Marlene Iglitzen, and Donna LaPietra, the producer of the famous and influential show he did with Siskel, Siskel & Ebert, and many others, not the least of whom is Martin Scorsese.

The film captures Ebertís good sense of humor, along with the tension in his relationship with Siskel and the amazing love of his wife, Chaz, whom he married when he was 50.

Itís the story of a man and his life and what he had to face, despite all the plaudits and fame. All phases of his career are shown through many interviews. They make you feel, as one person in the film says, that youíd like to sit down and have a beer with this guy. Particularly revealing is his stormy relationship with Siskel, who was a film critic for a competing newspaper. Getting two rivals together wasnít easy and the resulting partnership didnít go at all smoothly. There are telling outtakes from promos the two had to film for the show that capture the tension in their relationship.

But it is also a film of a manís death, so it is also poignant and touching. Chaz comes across as the woman for all the ages, the way she cares for him. In fact, watching her devotion to her obviously dying husband was so inspiring that near the end of the film I leaned over to the woman sitting next to me and said, ďWhat a woman!Ē

One cannot help but admire a man who faces what Roger had to face with such bright spirits and determination. Whether or not you are a movie fan or someone who likes to read reviews or not, this is a film for everyone. Death will come to us all. We can only hope we can face it with the courage and acceptance shown here by Roger Ebert.

This was a surprisingly interesting and moving, even inspirational experience for me, and not just because Iím a film critic. The courageous way he faced and accepted death exceeded all his accomplishments, and this film shows it all.

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