Movie Reviews

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by Jonathan W. Hickman


Wrestling with Father


Fathers wrestle with sons, and sons wrestle with fathers. It’s the natural order of things. Usually, it is tough for either to say “I love you.” The macho thing gets in the way and you don’t have to be jock to experience it.

“Reversal” tells the very personal and thoughtful story of a boy and his dad wrestling with one another and learning that its okay to say the three magic words–its okay to mean it, too.

Leo Leone (played by Danny Mousetis) is a talented young high school athlete. He has great potential as a wrestler. His father, Ed (played by writer and executive producer James Petulla), once a high school state wrestling champion, has devoted his life to his son and to winning. It is the creation of a WINNER in his son that is the focus of Ed’s life, and he has to learn that winning is only half the battle. Ed attempts to disguise his obsession by dangling the prospect of a college scholarship before Leo. To be fair, Ed has what he thinks are the best intentions in mind. But the plan is blinding.

The story starts very well with Leo as a young boy being taught to wrestle by his loving father. These opening scenes are something special which makes the film‘s second half featuring Leo at age seventeen seem a bit disappointing. Ed tells the young Leo about winning and the importance of being first–these statements are chilling and earnest, very true to life.

After some nice scenes of young Leo and his father, the story flashes forward to Leo at age seventeen. Leo has become a champion wrestler and has followed his father’s advice devoting himself to becoming a wrestling champion and all the demanding physical requirements of the sport. But there is something hollow in Leo that is softly displayed through his mother’s listless existence at home and the introspective manner in which Leo carries himself.

This is a good story that is told well here, however, the lead actor, Danny Mousetis, who plays Leo at age seventeen delivers a Sofia Coppola-type ala “The Godfather Part III” performance that is damaging. My comment is clichéd, I know, but Danny Mousetis only looks the part; his mumbling is not convincing. Still, I certainly admired his physical stature and the workout footage shot in what is referred to as “the barn” or “the farm” is terrific, even powerful. If someone would have just told him to articulate a bit more clearly, just kick it up a notch without being over the top.

People will say that I’m being too hard on Mr. Mousetis and, in life, tough guys mumble. I’m sure, however, that Danny Mousetis was cast in the lead because of his physical prowess and not because of his acting ability. But it doesn’t have to be that way and it doesn’t always work out. Hell, some guy named Tobey Maguire is playing “Spiderman,” and we will have to wait and see whether he can pull it off.

On the whole, good performances do populate “Reversal.” James Petulla is solid as Ed. Kelly Vint as Leo’s girl, Shaw, manages to make her relationship with Leo look believable. And Justin Spates delivers a star-making performance as fellow wrestling champ and rival Thurman Ellis, Jr.

I especially liked the subplot involving Thurman Ellis, Jr., and his bully father, Thurman Ellis, Sr. (played by Guido “Cougar” Foehrweisser). In a particularly effective scene, Thurman, Jr., fails to make weight for a competition and cannot wrestle. His enraged father abuses the boy provoking him into a spontaneous wrestling match between father and son. As the competition progresses inside the gym, the senior Thurman and the junior Thurman roll around violently outside in front of the school out of the view of those inside. There is no referee to call the match. It’s a quiet moment, one that will never be forgotten. These things really happen; its all part of growing up.

“Reversal” reminded me of a very well made but flawed film I saw earlier this year called “O.” Without insulting Mr. Shakespeare, “Reversal” is actually a better film because it tells a story that does not rely on the ridiculous and bloody violent to conclude. Yes, the lead is not a strong actor, but he is surrounded by a good supporting cast and a story that needs to be told more and often.