GLEASON – A Review by John Strange

Gleason still
By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
I like football but unlike some of my friends, I can’t name the men and their positions and career stats.  I will use that as the excuse for never hearing of Steve Gleason prior to seeing this film.  Gleason is a documentary about a young man who, following retiring from a 9 year career with the New Orleans Saints is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, 
According to the information I found, “ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.”  The bottom line is that people who are diagnosed with this disease slowly lose the ability to do things like walk or talk or even feed themselves.  Few live more than two to five years following onset of the disease though there are cases where this limit has been beat.  Most notable among those who have lived for many years is English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
The family has to contend with both good and bad news.  Steve’s wife, Michel, is pregnant with their first child.  This film is not just a series of moments displaying the football star’s degeneration as the disease progresses.  It is a love letter from Steve to his son, Rivers.  It contains a series of videos Steve made to tell his son about him and his life and all of the things he knows he would want to tell him as he grows up.
Diagnosed at the age of 34, Steve has a lot of decisions to make.  His decisions are not what I think most of us would make.  He lives some of his bucket list items which included trips to places like Alaska and reuniting with his father. We are given an intimate, sometimes painful, view of Steve and his family as the disease slowly robs him of the ability to walk and talk.  It is a race to see if he can build a foundation to help other people stricken with ALS to live more productive lives longer than in years past.  That foundation is called Team Gleason.
This film is full of humorous moments balanced with some that are heart-wrenching.  We see the birth of his son balanced with his frustrations that build as he slowly loses the ability to communicate. 
His foundation’s work leads the way in the fight to use technology to assist and enhance ALS sufferers’ lives.  One of the things they talk about is an amazing speech synthesizer, like the one used by Dr. Hawking, but much more advanced.  Part of the setup requires the person to say sentences and words so that eventually, the device speaks with the person’s voice instead of that ugly mechanical sounds characterized by Dr. Hawking’s device.
If you want to watch a bright and cheerful summer movie, do NOT watch this film.  It is a true telling of the drama that was Steve Gleason’s life.  His days playing football at Washington State and then for the New Orleans Saints did not prepare him for what he was going to be put through.  What you are going to see is an eye-opening story of a man who didn’t let ALS rule his life any more than he had to.  You will laugh and you will cry.  And you will walk away with important insight into a disease that man is a long way from curing; a disease that is diagnosed for over 6000 people in the U.S. each year.
Directed by: Clay Tweel
Cast: Steve Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita, Mike McKenzie, Michel Varisco-Gleason, Drew Brees, Blair Casey, Kevin Dedmon, John Elway, Gail Gleason, Kyle Gleason, Jesse Jackson, Mike McCready, Judith Robert, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Warner
MPAA Rating: R (for language)
Selig Rating: Full Price
Runtime: 110 Min.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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