For the last 25 years of his life, Roger Ebert was the most famous film critic in America. In his final decade—he died in April 2013—Ebert became famous for something else. He faced death in a public way, with frankness and grit. Cancer altered his appearance and robbed him of the ability to speak and eat, but he was unleashed as a writer. Those last years—and his embrace of blogging and Twitter—steered him into feisty agitprop and mellow memory-writing (he published his memoir Life Itself in 2011).
This new documentary about Ebert focuses perhaps too much on the cancer fight. This is understandable; director Steve James—whose Hoop Dreams Ebert tirelessly championed—had touching access to the critic and his wife Chaz during what turned out to be Ebert’s last weeks. It’s a blunt, stirring portrait of illness.