Gleason (2016)

gleason-2016Steve Gleason was a New Orleans Saints linebacker whose career hit a peak in September 2006 at the Superdome, when he blocked an Atlanta Falcons punt that was picked up by teammate Curtis Deloatch for a touchdown, the first score for the Saints on their home turf since Hurricane Katrina. Gleason retired from football in 2008, and three years later his life took a double twist: he was diagnosed with ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) shortly before his wife Michel learned that they were expecting their first child.

Clay Tweel’s film offers a video diary of the efforts by the couple to deal with these parallel considerations. Some of the footage is harsh – especially when Michel angrily objects to his father’s decision to bring the physically failing Gleason to a dubious faith healer – and the speed in which Gleason’s vitality evaporates is harrowing.

But the film has some curious gaps: the viewer has no idea how Gleason made a living after leaving football, nor is there any certainty who is paying for his medical treatment, which ultimately include a motorized wheelchair and sight-recognition computer software when he is no longer capable of speech. The film also fails to acknowledge that the discovery of the so-called bounty scandal involving efforts by Saints players to deliberately injure opponents arose as a result of an audio recording made during this production.

Despite its flaws, the film is a moving portrait to a brave family, and it offers a raw first-hand look at the devastation created by ALS