Clay Tweel (director)
Arrow Films (studio)
17 March 2017 (released)
11 March 2017
Gleason graphically presents what a magnificent and cruel thing the human body can be. Steve Gleason was an American footballer par excellence. Highly skilled he was a success at all levels of the game and an NFL star with the New Orleans Saints. He’s a local hero with a statue of him outside the New Orleans Saints Superdome to commemorate a block that helped win the game on a hugely emotional return to the arena after hurricane Katrina in 2006.
He retires and at only 34 is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). A neuromuscular disease that slowly shuts the body’s functions down but cruelly leaves the mind intact.
At virtually the same time he meets and marries Michel Varisco. His wife becomes pregnant and knowing that he will never have a conventional father son relationship, he begins a video log that can be played back to his son.
Gleason’s slow deterioration is painful in the extreme, as by the stages, he loses mobility, his arms and the most harrowing segment when he admits to camera that he’s close to losing his ability to speak. Eventually his lungs start to give out and he is given what amounts to a life or death option.
For a man that of his determination having already adapted to his condition with some remarkable technology - he records his own voice so that he can communicate a la Stephen Hawking but much closer to his own – there is only one option and undergoes an operation that leaves him all but at the mercy of a machine.
He also forms Team Gleason, a not for profit foundation that helps provide equipment for others with these diseases as well as raising the profile.
Through video diaries and frank interviews, writer and director Clay Tweel builds up a complex warts and picture of Gleason, his family and friends. For all is charm, at times Gleason comes over as arrogant and selfish, almost manipulative. His wife while always supportive acknowledges there is a separation, of sorts.
In many respects this is also a film about fatherhood and relations with fathers. Gleason has a difficult relationship with his religious father. Faiths are questioned and tested – one tortuous scene when, while still having some mobility, he attends a church and, supposedly blessed, attempts to run, with terrible results. Eddie Vedder touches on his relationship with his father in a brief interview and throughout Steve Gleason is determined to be the best father he can be to his son.
What finally emerges is an engrossing, unsentimental portrait of a man faced with immense difficulties, who by turning them into challenges, overcomes them and opening up new horizons for him and many others.