Movie Reviews

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Friday, September 14, 2001
by Ed Blank

Astute ‘Reversal’ tells rich tale of father’s shortcomings

James Petulla dedicates his film “Reversal” to “all of the fathers.”

The film is world-premiering with a two week engagement at Hollywood Theaters at the Crown Center in Washington County, where it was shot.

Petulla, a 41-year old Oil City native, wrote, executive-produced and took a central role. It’s a primary autobiographical work in which he’s playing a character based on his father.

He made it for less than $500,000, but it looks like it cost a few million.

Much of the credit for its appearance must go to Bill Molina, the Director of Photography, whose rapturous autumnal photography makes better use of western Pennsylvania locations than any picture to date with the possible exception of “The Silence of the Lambs.”

And that’s only the surface. Inside is an astutely observed and splendidly acted depiction of good people in conflict.

Forget the cynicism and knowingness with which so many movies today are made. “Reversal” is about the difficulty of growing into and maintaining relationships with the people we love.

Ed Leone (James Petulla) is Every Father, a well-meaning parent driven by the sense that he grew up just shy of the impetus he needed to satisfy his dreams. He’s a janitor and a vocational high school wrestling coach who thrives on his son’s ring accomplishments and who wants him to get a college wrestling scholarship.

He’s trying to develop in his sensitive son a must-win fighter’s heart. Ed is full of maxims such as “Hard work pays off” and “Don’t ever give up. Never quit.”

From the time son Leo was a bone-thin and wide-eyed 7 (Derrick Nelson), he lived to please. Now about 17 (and played from then on by a becomingly natural Danny Mousetis), he goes through body ravaging cycles of starving, bulking up, rigorous training, pigging out and dehydrating.

His instincts are at odds with his self-discipline. He’s living to be his dad’s hero.

The training passages parallel parts of “Rocky,” but “Reversal” is its own picture. It doesn’t build to a fairy tale fight, but to growth through self-realization.

Mousetis plays Leo’s dissatisfaction with the sense that it has been earned rather than as a cheap posture. You need only compare “Reversal” to “Hardball,” another movie opening today that involves students and sports to see how incomparably more honest the former is and how much goes into preparation and how bittersweet victory can be.

Relatively little time in “Reversal” is consumed by wrestling. Not since “Raging Bull” (1980), though, has a contact sport been depicted with such playing-for-keeps veracity.

A climactic match between Mousetis and Justin Spates, who plays a schoolmate Thurman Ellis Jr., is so vigorously staged and artfully edited you might hear yourself recoiling with a “Whoa!”

The riches here are many, including Kelley Boone’s portrayal of Leo’s secretive girlfriend, Shaw, and the controlling father Thurman Ellis Sr. by Guido “Cougar” Foehrweisser.

Maybe because his life’s blood is in the screenplay, Petulla seems most natural of all. He shows that good people don’t mean to let each other down; they just can’t meet the expectations of others well enough.

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