Movie Reviews

Gold Medalist Kendall Cross


by Kendall Cross


Reversal: Honest, Important


Every generation wants the next generation to benefit from its experience and live a better life.

This is the essence of Reversal.

Reversal is a movie involving a family dynamic that takes place across America, over & over again, in every sport, in every household and in every family room.

It’s about a father wanting his son to do well in life.

A hard-working Pennsylvania coalminer wants his son to live a better life than he did. Driven by his own shortcomings, he pushes his son, Leo, to the point where Leo questions his passion for the sport he grew up loving. With a scholarship in the waiting, a girlfriend in his peripheral and the rest of his life in the balance, Leo has to find his own passion and trust that it takes him to a better place. He has to find his own identity and his own passion.

It would be easy to coin Reversal as a “wrestling” movie, but it’s much more than that. It truly is much more! Reversal is a relationship movie. It’s a family movie. It’s an honest movie that provokes thought, educates and sends a meaningful message that we can all apply to our own lives.

Reversal allows us, as wrestlers, to take a step back, look at our own sport and realize there is much more to life than wrestling. It allows us to take a look at how we treat one another, our families, our friends, even our rivals.

I find Reversal fascinating for several reasons, but one stands out above all:

IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY! The events are real!

James Petulla wrote a movie about his life. And while the movie has been somewhat controversial within the wrestling community, I am most proud of it because it is HONEST. In this age of blockbuster shoot-em-ups, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that contains a real life story with real people and well-intentioned American values.

I was touched by this movie — touched because I saw myself in little Leo, because I saw my dad in Leo’s father, because the wrestling was real, because the struggle for the prize was real, because the consequences of one’s choices were real ­ for better or worse. For these reasons, I related to Reversal. You may not relate in the same way, but you should decide for yourself.

To those who are concerned about wrestling’s portrayal in the movie, the DVD extras should alleviate those concerns. The extras are informative and expressly geared toward the wrestling community. Viewers will learn about the negative effects Title IX has had on our great sport. I feel certain you will be moved when you see the scrolling list of college wrestling programs we have lost due to the interpretation of Title IX. You’ve got to see it! EVERY wrestling fan should buy the DVD, if for no other reason, than that 5% of the proceeds go toward supporting the wrestling entities battling Title IX.

As much as I can say about Reversal, I feel my wife’s perspective deserves mention, perhaps even before my own. An individual recently wrote an article condemning the movie for reasons that we all can appreciate. Rona asked to see the article. The individual forwarded it and suggested that instead of Reversal, wrestling needs a “feel good” movie like “The Kendall Cross Story.” He asked her what she thought of the article and the movie. Because her viewpoints are so well thought out and so eloquently written, I’d like to share some segments of her response with you. Like the movie, it’s honest and it’s important:

I read your article and I understand and appreciate your issues with the movie. However, as someone who watched many of my friends and my husband take dire risks to get past the gatekeeper (weigh-ins) to pursue their dreams, I think Reversal can ultimately show how far the sport has come. I would also point out that a true Kendall Cross movie — while a feel-good story about the determination of a champion, overcoming odds, and winning the coveted Gold Medal — would also include many of the weight-cutting scenes that you condemn in Reversal. Consider why Kendall has embraced this movie. It can be spun as an example of what not to do, which is what part of your article focuses on.
I don’t think wrestling benefits by denying that these drastic measures occurred, and occurred at an alarming level. Every sport has its issues. It’s healthy for wrestling to get these ugly facts out and deal with them head on. Denial benefits no one. You were a fierce competitor, and you know as well as I do that a champion finds a way to win. It’s good for parents to know what extremes their kids can go to so they can watch for the signs, and positively intervene. Even better, when parents are armed with knowledge, they can talk to their kids and perhaps avoid the problem altogether. In that vein, I think it’s good that a movie, which has no actual health risk, exposes and educates about the damage and the danger of these methods.

The first time I watched it, I viewed it from the perspective of having been Kendall’s girlfriend/wife for so many years, and the issues I saw him grapple with. I also saw parts of Kendall’s relationship with his father in it the first time around.

The second time I watched it through my eyes as a mother. And, aside from it being a cathartic experience for James given his relationship with his father, I think that’s what James’s goal in making the movie was. He’s the father of two young boys, and I think the movie’s focus is sincerely aimed at the relationship between parents and their kids ~ it’s about loving your kids and wanting the best for them, trying to do what you think is best and making mistakes, and realizing that being supportive and understanding are inevitably two of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Frankly, I walk away from it being quite proud to be part of the wrestling world. While Reversal deals with some issues we would all care not to rehash, it also highlights the inherent grit and venerable character traits that wrestling requires and enhances. These character traits stay with those who wrestled whether they go on to be Olympic Gold Medalists, Speakers of the House, Secretaries of Defense, coaches, teachers, or Hollywood producers. I think that’s a wonderful thing for the general public to see first-hand. While you may be concerned with the way wrestling is presented in the movie, I think you should take some comfort in the fact that a huge non-wrestling audience watched this movie and came away so touched that they voted it Best Feature Film over 70 or so other movies. Who knows, some of those people may have never seen real wrestling before, and may be more inclined to check it out now.

Keep in mind that the presentation of the movie has evolved, too. The DVD extras educate viewers about nutrition and Title IX, which could boost public opinion and public image consistent with your goals. As to public perception, Kendall and I are going to see the movie next weekend in NY at Robert deNiro’s film festival. I’m curious to see for myself how the non-wrestling crowd reacts, and I’ll be happy to let you know.

I appreciate your thoughts and understand that they are motivated by protectiveness of the sport and good intentions for kids. I hope you understand that I come from the same place.

All the best,

Rona