Sundance review: ‘Life Itself’
Published: January 20, 2014 12:52AM
Updated: January 20, 2014 12:52AM
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FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2011 file photo, film critic Roger Ebert works in his office at the WTTW-TV studios in Chicago. When "Life Itself" debuts Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, at the Sundance Film Festival it will be the first time Ebert's wife, Chaz, will see the full documentary about her late husband's life. "Life Itself" includes footage that director Steve James gathered over the final four months before the famed film critic died last April after a long battle with cancer. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

“Life Itself”

Documentary Premieres

*** 1/2 (three and a half stars)

Roger Ebert was a multi-faceted man -- film critic, raconteur, cancer survivor, TV star, blogger, and devoted husband -- that it’s a joy to see that director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) captured so many of them in the documentary “Life Itself.” Based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name (which is quoted liberally here), the movie tells Ebert’s life story from boyhood through his career with the Chicago Sun-Times and his tempestuous TV partnership with his rival Gene Siskel. James also captures Ebert late in life, as cancer and the attempts to fight it had left Ebert unable to speak and, in the final months before his death last April, largely unable to walk. James structures the movie in two halves: the first bouncing through Ebert’s career as if all his friends (which here include newspapermen, college buddies and filmmakers) were swapping stories, and the second spotlighting Ebert’s health problems, the enduring love he had for his wife Chaz, and his competitive but brotherly partnership he shared with rival critic Gene Siskel. The result is a whole portrait, the good and the bad, of a man who loved movies and life in equal measure.

-- Sean P. Means

“Life Itself” screens again at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: Monday at 1 p.m. at the Redstone Cinema 2, Park City; Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Sundance Screening Room, Sundance resort; Friday at 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City; and Saturday at 9:15 p.m. at the Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City.