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With the talk about professional football and concussions (portrayed recently in the (Will Smith), occasional talk has linked them to ALS. This talk has been somewhat casual with little bearing. I'm not writing this to suggest that former professional footballer Steve Gleason's occupation led to his current situation in lift, rather to mention that Gleason has almost transcended past that to the point where everyone knows his story. As it turns out that is just a part of the documentary that bears his name.
Gleason was an undrafted free agent signed by the New Orleans Saints in 2000 (after being released by the Indianapolis Colts). His work on the field led him to a spot on the Saints' special teams, and blocked a punt which led to a touchdown for the Saints. The block was in the Saints' first game in New Orleans in almost two years following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the Saints eventually won the Super Bowl in 2009, with Gleason's act serving as the catalyst for the team's rebirth. A statue of the act is outside the stadium. Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 as he and his wife Michel were attempting to conceive, and the film follows him from that time to present day, and includes many video blogs Gleason recorded in a gift to his son.
Sean Pamphilon (Run Ricky Run) was initially tabbed to direct the film, but was replaced after he released audio (against Gleason's wishes) of a discussion with one of his coaches which encouraged a bounty system on hitting and injuring opponents. Clay Tweel directed the final product, using blogs, assorted old video sources, and interviews with family and friends.
There is a lot, a LOT, of moments in Gleason that shatter you in varying degrees. In the weeks and months following the diagnosis, before it was made public, you can see the pain on Michel's face. She watches the couple's wedding tape while Steve sleeps and looks at him, perhaps wondering if he will see the birth of their son. In a ‘triathlon' in the community, Steve's illness makes its first signs and it's devastating. Her processing his illness, and her strength for him at times is a remarkable part of the story.
Also remarkable and less stated is the story of Gleason and the relationship with his father. Steve wants Rivers to have a great life and enjoy everything it has to offer. Steve's father still has issues with the illness apparently and balances them with his faith and the faith of his son. These come together in a couple of powerful moments; one where Steve subjects himself to his father's faith, and another where he lays out his faith for his father. They are emotional moments without a doubt.
That all of this tape exists is a tremendous benefit for the film. We watch Gleason's reconciliation with the diagnosis, acceptance of it, but not without his own moments of frustration as he eventually loses his voice, or has strained relationships with Michel. We also see his true nature at various points, and it's a spirit that goes beyond his physical being. Gleason is a wonderful figure even as he becomes more of that spirit.
For what I knew about Steve Gleason and his subsequent charity work, Gleason shows us the road from its origins, shows us motivations and intentions, roadblocks, everything, and proves to be an amazing experience. It's one of the best films I've seen in 2016 and speaks deeply among faith, fathers and sons, husbands and wives.The Disc:
Gleason is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and the results are good. The film juggles sources of varying aspect ratios, along with stills of Steve and/or Michel capably. It also splices in new/recent interviews with Michel which look sharp. Colors are reproduced accurately and flesh tones appear natural. The Pacific Northwest sequences are particularly beautiful with lush greens and cabin browns from wood finishes. It looks as good as can be given the material it was working with.The Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and save for occasional songs, the soundtrack does not have a lot to do, but handles the material it's given with no objection. Dialogue is well-balanced and the older material also sounds clean as can be. If anything, the scene where Gleason starts the ‘Who Dat!" chant at the game may seem a little artificial, but it's a small hair to split. All in all it sounds clean as a whistle.Extras:
Michel and Tweel contribute a commentary for the film that is equal helpings informative and emotional but isn't wholly a solid complement to the film. Tweel talks about the intent of scenes and some of the things they came across, and Michel provides some additional context or recollection to a moment in the film. That is basically the track in a nutshell. It adds some information but not much and feels like more of an obligation than anything else. I liked it, I just wasn't impressed by it.Final Thoughts:
If you come in to Gleason not knowing much about the man, you are in for an amazing experience. Even if you do know a bit about how Steve Gleason got to the point in his life, the film shows you so many different facets of the journey that you really didn't know much about him at all. The commentary is a bit disappointing, but shouldn't deter you from seeing this moving cinematic experience.