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This raw, uncompromising film feels less like a documentary and more like a genuine, prolonged observance in to somebody else’s life, as if the screen in front of us was a portal that allowed us to live and breathe along with someone else’s journey. Such is Gleason, the engrossing documentary which has two noble aims: to raise awareness about ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and for a man to connect with his unborn son. About 15 minutes in, we are introduced and then soon disregard that Steve Gleason was once a daring and well known NFL player, because while it’s necessary set up, it’s not the reason this movie was made.
Instead we struggle and strain with him through his unfiltered, upfront and painfully intimate video diary told to his son, who will be born knowing Gleason as someone entirely different than what he will see in these videos.
Gleason is intense – Steve and his wife Michel leave nothing out of this exploration in to their life and love. Weeks after his ALS diagnosis, the couple found out Michel was pregnant.
This movie is filled with such intensely bittersweet moments.
Gleason participates in a triathlon with his friends, but his gait has become awkward and protracted. Footage of his football days rolls right in to a scene of his wife feeding both him and their new baby. The wealth of the Gleasons allows Steve access to the best treatments possible, and the couple fights the good fight to provide other, less well-off sufferers with proper care as well – they develop a charity that fights to have ALS speech devices covered on Medicaid, and they sponsor struggling families to take vacations they could never have afforded.
The movie tries to put forward a positive message of love-conquers-all, and that’s true, however the inevitability of Steve’s disease naturally places the same note of intense hardship over the entire film. Gleason is inspiring, and filled with love, but at times tough to watch and at other times intensely sad. However, since it’s a documentary about life, as it truly is, I’d say it gets it just right.
Gleason is in cinemas on March 17.