Life Itself

July 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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At some point, while watching this film, it suddenly dawned on me how it could possibly have earned a near perfect 96% on Rotten Tomatoes; in the end, how could it not?  All of these critics new Roger Ebert, some for many years.  How can you not be moved watching a man you knew die?  In the beginning, I had thought this would be a film about Ebert the critic.  I wanted that film. I have read his reviews more than any other person’s.  I watched his show for years.  I always trusted him because I trusted that I knew his writing well enough that, whether he loved or hated a film, I could tell from his reviews if I would agree with him or not.  And, often, I felt like he spoke exactly my language.  Or at least the language I wanted to speak.  He was not a cynical critic, though he could be an indignant one.  He judged based on who a film was for and not based on some universal sense of “good.”  I am not so generous, though I wish I could be.  However, this is not really a film about that man, though we spend time discussing his career and there are some truly wonderful and funny moments, particularly in the scenes of his relationship with Gene Siskel.  As I said, in the beginning, I had thought this would be a film about Ebert the critic.  In the end, it was a film about Ebert the man.  Both he and his wife, Chaz, are honest and vulnerable to a degree that is disarming.  Much has been said of his reputation but it is hard not to love the man you see on that screen.  He, his family and friends, face the end of his life with such dignity and bravery that it would not be possible to be unmoved.  Director Steve James (best known for the stunning “Hoop Dreams”) knows to give space and let people speak for themselves.  At the beginning of this film, Ebert is shown saying, “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.  It let’s you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears.  It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”  Like great narrative films, this documentary does that in a simple but profound way.  To have a heart at all would be to leave this film feeling a deeper connection to this man, indeed, to all people and to life itself.

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