Movie Reviews

1st Source Wrestling

by Rachel “Triple Rach” Griffith – 1st Source Writer
Mar 19, 2003

SPECIAL: Triple Rach’s Reel Review – “Reversal”

What independent film was the Malibu Film Festival winner, Indy Vision Tribeca Film Festival winner, Yellowstone Family Film Festival winner, and Austin Film Festival first runner up? The “little wrestling movie that could” of course! Reversal garnered mainstream media attention in Oklahoma City, OK in 2001 when it came in second at the box office behind The Rock’s Scorpion King. Reversal achieved many independent film honors and has been named the “best pure wrestling movie ever made” by numerous film critics.

Reversal is the true story of a wrestling coach/father and his quest to fulfill his dream life through his son, a dedicated high school champion. The main characters are Ed Leone, played by the director James Petulla, who is the hard-nosed wrestling coach for his son throughout the years. University of Pennsylvania wrestling phenom Danny Mouseitis plays Leo Leone, Ed’s determined wrestling protégé/son. The tale beings in a small community in rural Pennsylvania when Leo was a seven-year old pee wee wrestling champion. From the beginning of the film, the audience gets a rare glimpse into the ugliness of competitive amateur wrestling. At the age of seven, young Leo is pushed and pressured by his wrestling coach and father Ed. The horrors and realities of cutting weight are detailed in all their hideous glory throughout the films two hour duration. Ed Leone’s determination to see his son succeed in wrestling after high school, starting at such a young age, is detailed in vibrant color.

After little Leo’s first pee-wee championship victory and cutting weight measures, the audience is taken ten years through time when Leo is a senior in high school. Ed’s ferocity in coaching style is deliberate as is Leo’s inner fire to succeed for his dad. The main conflict of the movie comes from Leo’s sudden intimacy with beautiful Shaw, played by Kelly Vint. Shaw questions Leo’s reasons for drastically cutting weight just to appease his father. Leo is caught in a crossroads at this point in his life, on whether to quit wrestling or continue living out his dad’s dreams.

The wrestling action in the movie is phenomenal because all of the actors in the play are actual collegiate level wrestlers. Danny Mouseitis attends the University of Pennsylvania and competes in the 125 lb. weight class. James Petulla, whom the story is based on, wrestled in Pennsylvania as a state high school champion. Justin Spates (son of OU head wrestling coach Jack Spates) plays the arrogant Thurman Ellis, Jr. and attends the University of Missouri where he wrestles very competitively for the Tigers in the 119 lb. weight division. All of the mat competition is real and emotional to the actors and viewing audience. None of the moves are scripted, but obviously the winners are predetermined (like WWE) to establish the storyline of the film. The films measly $500,000.00 budget are pennies to many top Hollywood production companies, but Reversal’s quality makes it look on par with a 2 million dollar blockbuster. The solid mat action is a key ingredient to Reversal’s revenue success.

As the plot begins to thicken, Leo becomes more involved with Shaw and withdraws from his father. Ed notices the change in Leo’s attitude and begins to resent him for it. The close father/son relationship is beginning to fray. At the same time, a new challenger in Leo’s wrestling world moves into town. Thurman Ellis, Jr., a California state champion, moves into the community looking to dethrone Leo from his perch. Ed immediately clashes with Thurman’s over-bearing father as he places young Thurman in a lower weight class to preserve Leo’s starting position. Justin Spates’ acting was absolutely breath-taking during his numerous conflicts with Leo in the movie. The best example of Spates’ superior thespian abilities is the scene where he doesn’t make weight and he and his father wrestle outside. The scene is both humorous and heart-breaking, showing the degeneration of a family over a simple sport.

The weight issues are a main subject brought up throughout Reversal. Leo is shown puking in the toilet numerous times, eating nothing for days, drinking a glass of water and immediately spitting it out, and worst of all taking laxatives which remove parts of his intestinal lining in the process of losing weight. Leo ends up in the hospital resembling a skelton more than a champion wrestler, and vows to never turn out like his father. Ed is crushed by this news but continues dreaming of Leo’s future wrestling accolades. Shaw and Leo’s relationship takes an unlikely hit, resulting in Leo contemplating his wrestling future.

To resolve all conflict between Leo and Thurman, Leo dangerously drops more weight to end up in Thurman’s weight division. They end up wrestling a top spot match, with the result being….you have to buy the movie to find out! Leo makes a difficult choice after the match and still questions his future. Finally realizing his mistakes, Ed comforts Leo and sends him off on whatever path his son chooses. Leo and Ed’s relationship ends on a very sober note.

Reversal easily deserves the pin in this classic movie match up. The superb acting (especially given the actors were wrestlers), excellent soundtrack adding to the competitive spirit of the film, and a wonderful screenplay make Reversal a must have movie. The DVD and special two tape VHS version of Reversal include behind the scenes footage, interviews with the actors, directors cuts, and interviews with some of today’s wrestling legends, such as: Kurt Angle, Kenny Monday, Kendall Cross, and Cael Sanderson. More interviews found only on the special edition are from: Shannon Miller, Danny Hodge, Carl Lewis, Sting, and OU head wrestling coach Jack Spates. The special features are jam-packed with weight training tips and technique, plus a bonus section covering the controversial Title IV. The bonus material is well worth the extra $10, as I heartily recommend shilling out the extra dough for great interviews and sound bites. Reversal can be purchased online at

Thanks for reading and pick up your copy of Reversal today!

Until next match,
Triple Rach
[email protected]

Reversal The Movie Digitally Remastered Directors On Demand Pre Order Now