- on Friday, 05 August 2016 13:45
- by Frank Wilkins
Hardly known outside the world of New Orleans Saints professional football, Steve Gleason is an undersized player who made his mark in the NFL with pure heart, gumption, and enough determination to beat the odds and scratch out a seven-year career as a special teams player.
His heroic block of a punt in a game following the Saints’ return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina helped restore the city’s pride and lifted the devastated community back on its feet. Gleason was a true hero in the eyes of many still reeling from the devastation.
But not nearly as much a hero as he becomes during his battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 34.
We follow Steve’s struggles in Clay Tweel’s documentary called Gleason which features footage from a video diary that Steve shoots as a message to his unborn son. Shortly after his diagnosis, Steve and wife, Michel, discover she is pregnant with their first child. Steve’s videolog – along with other footage shot by friends and family who help take care of him, is often emotionally devastating. Bring the hankies and prepare yourself to be broken down, lifted up, made to laugh, and then completely inspired… all inside the span of a couple of hours.
The film opens with Steve spilling his thoughts to the camera. He divulges that he’s been diagnosed with the disease and that it will eventually rob of him of mobility, speech, and eventually his life. He’s talking to his unborn son, whom they’ve named Rivers. Steve speaks frankly into the camera as we watch the disease slowly take its toll.
Besides being a detailed and highly informative chronicling of the disease’s horrible progression and what it does to the body, mind, and soul, the documentary is also a warts-and-all portrait of an entire family struggling to maintain hope and dignity in the face of disaster. As Steve’s disease progresses, he relies more and more on Michel to provide round-the-clock care, and as she struggles to maintain energy, we see that she’s barely keeping it together. Michel is the true hero in all this as her selfless devotion and dedication to her husband is unwavering. She refuses to let Steve feel sorry for himself.
Not much help comes from Gleason’s strict disciplinarian father however, save for a demanded trip to a hands-on faith healer. The resulting images – as Steve’s hopes for a cure are crushed – are not only heartbreaking, but verge on sickening.
Gleason is often a tough film to watch. If there are any gripes, they would come from the almost constant barrage of doom and despair as the relentless disease slowly robs its victim of life. But there’s a strong and uplifting message in there about strength, dignity, perseverance, and the value of family sacrifice. This is top-notch father-son watching material that is sure to be remembered come Oscar time. It’s that good. Don’t miss it. You’ll leave the theater a better person.
MPAA Rating: R for language
Runtime: 110 mins
Director: Clay Tweel
Writer: Clay Tweel
Cast: Steve Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita
Tagline: Live with purpose. Love with purpose.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Am i the hottest guy you've ever ass-fingered?"
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Official Site: http://thegleasonfilm.tumblr.com/
Release Date: January 23, 2016 (Sundance Film Festival); July 29, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: The hit documentary from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival goes inside the life of Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints defensive back who, at the age of 34, was diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of two to five years. Weeks later, Gleason found out his wife, Michel, was expecting their first child. A video journal that began as a gift for his unborn son expands to chronicle Steve's determination to get his relationships in order, build a foundation to provide other ALS patients with purpose, and adapt to his declining physical condition—utilizing medical technologies that offer the means to live as fully as possible.
No details available.