The remarkable story of a man who refused to be cowed by motor neurone disease.




This is a documentary feature by Clay Tweel but my response to it has very little to do with his input. Instead I react to this film about former American footballer Steve Gleason on a highly subjective level: Gleason was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in 2011 and that carried a life expectation of only two to five years so this is a grim film about a man facing degeneration and the prospect of an early death.  Whether one finds such portrayals heroic or depressing is very much down to the individual viewer.


Gleason certainly prompts a comparison with the 2016 release about a husband and father suffering from sepsis, Starfish, but, although that film too told a true story, it was a dramatised work with actors. Both that piece and Gleason can be seen as encouraging research of the illness in question while also reminding those coping with comparable situations that they are not alone. However, from my point of view, watching great acting as in Starfish becomes a cause for admiration as well creating sympathy while watching the real thing as in Gleason can seem intrusive and depressing regardless of the courage on display.


Much of the footage in Gleason stems from Steve Gleason's immediate wish to create a video journal through which he could communicate in years to come with the child whose impending birth became known only a few weeks after the fatal diagnosis. The child would be a boy, Rivers, and, knowing that the disease would be ever more limiting, Steve's declared aim was to offer on video as much of himself as he could for as long as he could. Furthermore, he took the view that if ALS would crush his body he would not allow it to crush his life. Indeed, by creating the charitable foundation Team Gleason he would be instrumental in improving the help available for those with ALS in addition to leading in time to a change in the law ensuring the availability of voice boxes for those in need after the illness had deprived them of the ability to speak.


One has to admire Steve Gleason for this, but was it fair to impose on his family in addition to involvement in his video diary and in Team Gleason the burden of being filmed intimately for this documentary that would also make his own footage public? Does it help to incorporate disputes with his father over their shared but differing religious beliefs as well as scenes that reveal Steve in the depths of despair and on occasion being critical of his poor wife? There is no philosophical content here comparable to what Professor John Hull brought to the film about his response to his loss of sight, Notes On Blindness (2016) and, whether due to Tweel or to Gleason himself, there is a sense that this film covering the period up to 2015 plays out most indulgently at 110 minutes. It would seem that Steve Gleason defying the expectations of his doctors is still alive and both he and this film may be seen by many as inspirational in which case my own doubts and reservations may seem inappropriate or even tasteless. But individual readers can assess for themselves whether or not this sounds to be a film that they would want to embrace.             




Featuring  Steve Gleason, Mike Gleason, Michel Varisco-Gleason, Paul Varisco Jr, Brendan Weber, Kyle Gleason, Gail Gleason, Paul Varisco Snr, Scott Fujita, Mike McKenzie, Vinnie Varisco, Jill Varisco. 


Dir Clay Tweel, Pro Kimi Culp, Scott Fujita, Seth Gordon, Kevin Lake and Mary Rohlich, Screenplay Clay Tweel and Seth Gordon, Ph Sean Pamphilon, Ty Minton-Small and David Lee, Ed Clay Tweel and Brian Palmer, Music Saul Simon McWilliams and Dan Romer.


Amazon Studios/IMG Films/Dear Rivers Productions-Arrow Films.
110 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 17 March 2017. Cert. 15.