- Cast: Steve Gleason
- Director: Clay Tweel
- Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Region: Region 1
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: R
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- DVD Release Date: November 1, 2016
- Run Time: 111 minutes
If Gleason were a scripted narrative film, it would likely come off as contrived. And yet, the intimacy that the camera is often able to achieve far surpasses the typical level of realism found even in the documentary format. This is exactly the type of complexity through contrast found within many elements of director Clay Tweed’s film. This is a film with brutally raw language, but amidst the casual use of the “F” word is an honest discussion about faith that would benefit even the most conservative of Christians. Gleason is a devastating front-row seat to the effects of a disease which destroys the physical body, while serving as an uplifting testament to the soul of the man within.
Steve Gleason was a defensive back football player for the New Orleans Saints, best known for a single play that he made during the first Super Bowl in the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The documentary covers this career, but it is really a film about the fighting spirit of the athlete, rather than his physical abilities. This is because shortly after retiring from football, Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. Shortly after that news, Gleason and his wife received the news that they were expecting a baby. Aware that his faculties would likely give out long before his child was grown enough to have a conversation with, Gleason begins to record himself on video.
It is the intimacy of these video diaries meant for his child that gives Gleason its raw power, though there are certainly also moments where it feels a bit like intruding. There is also the discrepancy between what types of treatments that Gleason can afford, as opposed to any non-celebrity diagnosed with the same disease. While this is simply an unjust reality, the documentary manages to avoid this uncomfortable fact by focusing on the foundation Gleason started to help others with ALS.
As their son is born, the film becomes about the struggle and sacrifice made by his wife as well. Michel is forced into a situation where she must care for an infant and her husband on a daily basis, which was not likely the life she had in mind when marrying a professional athlete. The documentary takes time to consider Michel’s situation, despite there being no neat resolution to be found. A slightly easier central theme to resolve has to do with Gleason’s tumultuous relationship with his conservatively religious father, determined to save his son’s soul. The strict upbringing and slightly judgmental attitude of his father leads to a majority of the film’s conflict, but also opens up the possibility for resolution. While the disease is endlessly horrific, there is the benefit of Gleason knowing the effects and having the time to have the necessary conversations before he is no longer able to. And all is captured on camera, which occasionally feels a bit too intrusive despite much of the footage having been filmed by Gleason himself.
The DVD of this difficult yet inspiring documentary comes with a commentary track with director Clay Tweel and Gleason’s wife, Michel.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 4.5/10