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Review: ‘Gleason’ follows NFL star’s battle with ALS

Prepare to weep at this unflinching documentary about New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason’s fight with Lou Gehrig’s disease

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Steve Gleason has stared down ALS with unflinching resolve, and so does the documentary about his life.

“Gleason” chronicles the former New Orleans Saints star’s battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it shows — in stark, steadfast detail — Gleason’s deterioration at the hands of the disease. Rarely do we see such a harsh look at a person’s slow degeneration on screen, but “Gleason” is there for every step and doesn’t turn away.

Gleason was a linebacker for the NFL’s Saints and scored a career (and civic) highlight when he blocked a punt during the team’s first game back at the New Orleans Superdome following the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. After his retirement from football in 2008, he’s diagnosed with ALS, and shortly thereafter his wife, Michel, found out she was pregnant.

Gleason began recording video diaries for his unborn son, which form the basis of “Gleason.” He also explores his often contentious relationship with his father in a series of interviews where the two clash over issues of faith and salvation.

As a film about disease, fathers and sons, and the strains that caretaking can put on marriage, “Gleason” works on several levels. It’s at times uplifting and at others it hits like a sack of bricks. It’s a first-class weepie that will clear out your quarterly allotment of tears. However many Kleenex you think you should bring, double it.

A few summers ago, everyone was dumping buckets of water over their head to raise awareness of ALS. “Gleason” does more to raise awareness of ALS than an ice bucket ever could. It’s a splash of cold water to your senses.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Gleason’

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for language

Running time: 110 minutes