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Steve Gleason

Steve Gleason

“GLEASON”  My rating: A- 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Gleason” will leave you a wreck…but in a good way.

A simple description of this documentary — it’s about a young man who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and must face the likelihood of an early and ugly death — is enough to scare most of us away from the movie theater.

I felt that way, too. But for all the pain, fear, anxiety and depression it contains, “Gleason” is an uplifting, life-affirming experience.

Despite being too small for the NFL, Steve Gleason became a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. He was, according to his wife Michel, “A superhero athlete but super smart — the best of both worlds.”

Gleason became the special teams captain, playing with balls-to-the-wall fury. In the Saints’ first home game after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Gleason blocked a punt. The play became a symbol of the city’s comeback and elevated him to celebrity status in the Big Easy.

He retired in 2008. In 2011 he was diagnosed with ALS. A month later Michel learned she was pregnant.

The film that became “Gleason” started as a videoblog for the couple’s unborn child: “A gift for you, my child, whom I have not yet met.  My intention is to pass on as much as I can of who I am to you.”

Meanwhile two local filmmakers — David Lee and Ty Minton-Small — began documenting the Gleasons’ lives, practically moving in with the couple and recording nearly 1,200 hours of intimate, heart-breaking footage.  Three years into their subject’s illness they turned their footage over to documentary maker Clay Tweel (“A Fistful of Quarters: The King of Kong,” “Finders Keepers”), who whittled it down and shaped it into a two-hour feature.

Steve Gleason...on the field with the NFL's Saints

Steve Gleason…on the field with the NFL’s Saints

There is stuff in here that will make you laugh. You’ll also wince, get angry, and tear up.

Despite receiving a death sentence, Steve Gleason declares that “It’s not going to crush my life even if it crushes my body.”

“Gleason” depicts in often harrowing detail how the neurological condition rapidly strips the once superb athlete of the ability to walk and eventually robs him of speech. The physical deterioration is terrifying.

But so are the lacerating emotional moments. At times Steve becomes furious at the hand fate has dealt him: “I want to punch something but I can’t.  All I can do is scream.”

 

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