Movie ReviewsMovie Parables
by Michael Elliott
Different people show love in different ways. Some sacrifice their own dreams; some force their will upon others out of a desire to help. James Petulla showed his love by making a movie. The result is Reversal, a film about fathers and sons set in the competitive world of high school wrestling.
Leo Leone (Danny Mousetis) is a two time district champion from the coal-mining town of Washington, PA. His success can be credited to the rigorous discipline that his father and coach (James Petulla) has drilled into him over the past ten years.
Even at 7 years old, young Leo (Derrick Nelson) is driven to “pull weight” in order to wrestle at a lower, more desirable level. It is a practice that requires intensive training combined with self-starvation and dehydration.
Ten years of such a grueling regimen has left its mark on Leo . . . both physically and emotionally. His past accomplishments have earned him a full wrestling scholarship to Oklahoma University and the opportunity to receive a college education. This, his father believes, will be Leo’s ticket for a better life. A life that he knows no other way of providing. Leo just isn’t sure the life his father wants for him is worth the sacrifices that wrestling demands of him.
Adding to his inner conflict is the pressure being exerted upon him by his girlfriend Shaw (Kelly Vint) who wants him to stop training and start living. Leo also has a rival in Ellis (Justin Spates), a state champion who has transferred into his school and wrestles in the same weight class.
What is remarkable about Reversal is not its wrestling motif, which has been seen before. It is not even the depiction of the strained relationship dynamics that the film contains. What is remarkable is that this independently produced labor of love, done on a shoestring budget (under $500,000), manages to convey an integrity and honesty regarding the subjects it covers.
Those subjects include far more than wrestling. Life within a dysfunctional marriage, substance abuse, temptation and deception are among the stumbling blocks we see in Leo’s path to maturity.
The acting from this unknown and mostly amateur cast is very well done, although both James Petulla and Kelly Vint have a very special natural quality which translates well to the big screen. Danny Mousetis and Justin Spates, both of whom are wrestling champs in their own right, excel in the physical scenes which take place on the mat. All of the wrestling sequences in the film are authentic and believable.
The producers’ limited funds must have been spent wisely because the film does have the look of a larger, more expensive production. Director Alan Vint, cinematographer William H. Molina, and composer Jeff Danna combine talents to give this picture a framework and texture of a project with five times the budget.
Reversal, according to writer/producer/star Petulla, is the story of his life. While it couldn’t have been an easy story to tell, the love he has managed to hold both for the sport of wrestling and for his father is clearly evident.
What Leo is put through by his father might be seen as bordering on child abuse and yet it is clear that the father is acting from love, not anger. Still, in his zeal to provide for his son in the only way he knew, Leo’s father pushed too hard and began inadvertently hurting his child.
We too have a father who exhorts and encourages us, driving us to be our best in all that we do. But unlike our natural fathers who, even in love and with the best of intentions, can make mistakes, our heavenly Father always provides what is best for us.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Matthew 7:9-11 (KJV)