Movie Reviews

Hollywood Jesus

by Mike Furches

Reversal Movie Review

Rarely have I seen a movie that has had such an immediate and sudden impact as did the movie Reversal. This independent film put out by James Petulla Productions is in short BRILLIANT and is more than worthy of a blockbuster audience. Whether it will receive one or not is yet to be seen. It is certain that a grassroots movement to promote the film will swell with each audience seeing it. Response to the advance screenings so far have been tremendous and the only question is: Will the lack of “big” names from Hollywood hinder it’s success? Reversal is a movie that patrons will have to request and insist on their local theaters bringing to town. It is also one that if they do, the theaters will experience far more success than they would have ever imagined. All the theaters will need to do is give it some time for word of mouth to spread.

There is a likelihood that this movie will experience the success of many other films if given time. While the Blair Witch Project was the most successful independent film of all time, Reversal is much more deserving of an audience and has a much more significant story to tell. I believe there will ultimately be success. That success will likely run in the area of DVD and VHS sales as well as cable premium television. Movies with this type of success in the past have included Eddie and the Cruisers, and more recently, Possums. While both of these are decent movies, Reversal pins them both to the mat.

The back drop for Reversal is the sport of wrestling. Not the wrestling that millions watch on cable television but the legitimate sport that has been around for thousands of years. The sport known of as Folkstyle, Collegiate, Free-style, and Greco-Roman. Wrestling has been around for thousands of years, even with several Biblical references. It is a sport that challenges every aspect of the human body and human psyche. It is not a sport for the faint-hearted or lazy. Reversal shows this better than any wrestling movie ever. That’s right, far better than even Vision Quest. While Vision Quest portrayed a Hollywood backdrop of the sport, Reversal uses real wrestlers, real drills and real life experiences that make a far more real portrayal of this most intense sport.

While Reversal is a movie that has as its backdrop elementary and high school wrestling it’s appeal should go much deeper than that. This movie is for any parent who has ever had dreams for their children and will help them understand and appreciate the drive and push of their parents. Dreams and passions that sometimes border on the edge of abuse yet at the same time recognizes the ultimate love and desires for each persons child. While the movie, Searching for Bobby Fisher, portrayed this concept wonderfully in the area of the game of chess, Reversal does the same for all sports, not just wrestling.

One of the things I loved about this movie was its honesty. Reversal is the brainchild and commitment of James Petulla who wrote, produced and starred in the film. While many may say the movie was a pet of James’s they might need to be careful if they haven’t seen the film. The truth is that because this is a true story and a story that James has lived, the integrity and honesty of this movie comes out like no other I have seen in a long time. The bottom line is that not only is the story real, but the quality of which it is told is exceptional. The highest praise has come from those who have seen the movie who have been involved in the sport, including both the struggles and joys. Kendall Cross, Olympic Gold Medal Winner told me his thoughts about the movie, “This movie is great.” There are currently 5 Gold Medal Winners who have strongly endorsed the film including the legend of wrestling Danny Hodge. Others include the University of Oklahoma Wrestling Coach and Olympic Coach Jack Spates who has reported to seeing the movie five times and crying each time. I will assure you that you can only get tears from these tough guys with the reality of which Reversal portrays. Not often do I admit tearing up myself but this one brought out the tissue. Another good reason to stay until the end of the credits.

There are a number of comments I must make regarding the technical aspects of Reversal. In regards to a budget Reversal was made on a fraction of what “Hollywood” studios spend. The approximate $500,000 spent on this film was a wise investment that should eventually make money and enhance the career of all involved. James Petulla, Alan Vint, Albert Hasson and Jeff Danna have to be commended for their work. The script and story by Petulla are absolutely terrific and the soundtrack by Jeff Danna also adds tremendously to this movie. How this movie can do so much with so little while some movies spend 10’s of millions and do so little is an accomplishment in and of itself. The acclaim for the technical aspects must not end here however.

Alan Vint the director and editor has worked with numerous actors like Al Pacinio, Robert Urich, Robert Duvall, Nick Nolte and numerous others. His direction in this film is among the best of any film I have seen in the last number of years. While there were some difficulties in the filming process it is a wonderful film for which Alan Vint must receive much of the credit. This is especially true since he had to fight so hard to hold true to his vision for the film. I have to also comment on the cinematography in the film which is filmed in Washington, Pennsylvania. Vint and the cinematographers are able to capture the spirit and beauty of Pennsylvania in a way that should have their tourism bureau running to them to give thanks for the promotion given their state and community in which the movie was filmed. The film is beautiful to watch and virtually every frame is worth looking at.

The recognition of Vint’s talent is also true in what he and Petulla did with their cast. This is especially true when considering that there are no “big” name actors in the film. In many regards that is a credit to Vint and his work. The production crew decided from the early get go to use real athletes who are familiar with the sport of wrestling when making the film. To their credit they did and in the process found some talent. In many ways they have reminded me of what Robert Rodreguiez of Spy Kids and From Dusk to Dawn fame did with his first movie El Mariachi. That is use local community talent and friends in making a movie. One of the reasons I think this concept scares many is the success that can be had from doing a movie of this nature when doing it well. Just think of all the big salaries that are not paid out as a result. The usage of quality editing and story telling can go a long way at making a good movie and as a dairy farmer might put it, Vint and Petulla milked that cow dry.

I must make some comment regarding the acting in Reversal. While many local actors were used in the filming, and in some instances, especially with some of the children used as extras, you can tell, as a whole the cast was exceptional. I didn’t expect to come away from this movie thinking that I would see real quality acting and was I ever pleasantly surprised.

James Petulla plays the part of Coach Leone, the father who wants his son to become the best wrestler possible so he can eventually obtain a college scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. Petulla who lived the story as the son plays the part exceptionally well. He gives a sense of believability to the part that probably no other could have. The emotions of loving your son so much that you make tremendous sacrifices is something that one almost has to live and experience before they can relay the message to the audience.

The parts of the son are played by Derrick Nelson as the young son and later Danny Mousetis as the son when he is in his senior year of high school. Both of these young men can act and wrestle. Derrick does a good job of just being a little boy. From the very beginning he allows the audience to understand what young Leo is going through with his father.

Danny Mousetis as Leo in High School is a blast. Mousetis, himself a state champion in high school, is now at the University of Pennsylvania on a wrestling scholarship. He brings a reality to the role that is both refreshing and real and again one that only a wrestler could understand. At first I didn’t know what to think of this young actor but the more I watched the film the more I liked his innocence and honesty. The part looked as if it were a natural role for him, almost as if he were the one living the part. Again an important attribute that will make many a audience member applaud the efforts of this movie.

Shaw, played beautifully by Kelly Vint, is the girlfriend who begins to help young Leo understand and recognize his own dreams and aspirations. I have never seen this young actress in a movie before but I must say if I don’t see her again it is a shame. This young actress is terrific to say the least. She plays the part with passion and conviction and is one of the absolute pleasant surprises of the film.

I must also give props to Justin Spates who plays the part of Thurman Ellis Jr. in the film. He is the young rival who comes on to the scene to challenge Leo for everything that he thought was important. Spates is also a State Champion wrestler and the son of legendary Oklahoma University Coach Jack Spates. He is wonderfully evil in this tart role. It is obvious that there are some amateur actors in the film, each of these and several others deserve special mention not because they are just good in this movie. Their acting here could be a launching pad for further acting endeavors if they were to so desire them.

Reversal is a beautiful film that portrays the struggles and challenges of parenting. It also illustrates something Paul writes in the Bible extremely well, “Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the Devil’s tricks. We are not wrestling against humans. We are wrestling against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on the armor that God gives. And when that evil day comes you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will be standing firm.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 CEV)

In the true sense of the word Reversal is not just a movie or flick it is a legitimate film. It addresses real world issues and causes the audience to offer up real life thoughts. You will reflect on your life long after seeing this film. On a personal note, I never grew up knowing my father. This movie taught me lessons however that would encourage me to be the best father that I could be. A wonderful movie for anyone who has ever dreamed for themselves or those they love.

I rate this film very high on my all time list and would consider it a must see. I’ll watch it again and again, with my son, learning all along the way about more than just wrestling.

A new entry into my top 100. Between a 2 take downs, 3 point near fall, and a reversal a 9 point decision — a very enjoyable and deserving 9.

Copyright 2002, Mike Furches. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

About Mike Furches: Mike Furches has enjoyed writing since a small child. Difficulty during childhood gives him a unique approach to his writing. He is involved in an Evangelism Ministry and enjoys the opportunities to share on various topics. While in college he produced a radio show and wrote the syndicated column “Slipped Discs.” Mike has written an autobiography, “The Keystone Kid,” for which he is looking for a publisher. He has also been published in numerous magazines. Mike also worked with many of the early pioneers of Christian music and numerous secular music groups. Check out his web page for more information:

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