Movie Reviews

Wrestling USA Magazine

by Cody Bryant

Reversal: The Movie

Tulsa Nationals worked hand in hand with the new release of “Reversal”, a father and son wrestling movie based on a true story in one of the strongest wrestling states in the country–Pennsylvania.

“Reversal” is based on the life of James Petulla who grew up in a small blue collar community in Pennsylvania. James’s father was his wrestling coach from the time that he was five years old until he graduated from high school. The movie starts off when Leo is 7 years old. Leo’s father Edward (played by James Petulla) pushes his son to be successful in wrestling at an early age, encouraging him to keep working hard and he will be a champion wrestler like himself.

There are two distinct scenes the really hit home about young Leo. The day before his first tournament he is overweight so his dad has him put on plastics to lose the weight. Leo is sitting on the bench in the locker room and his dad is taping Leo’s plastics to make them tight around the ankles and wrists. Later that evening in the middle of the night Leo wakes up and goes down stairs to get a drink. Young Leo pours himself a glass of juice and takes a drink then goes to the sink and spits it out. Dad comes into the kitchen after witnessing all this and tells his son how proud he is for him not taking a drink. Leo loves his dad and like any young child they want their parents to be proud of them. At one time or another during our wrestling careers we have been there, we haven’t eaten or drank all day and you lay in bed trying to sleep but all you can think about is how hungry and thirsty you are.

After Leo wins the tournament he goes home to bed and falls asleep with his trophy in his arms. It’s times like that when you think that all that hard work and cutting weight is worth it.

Now the movie moves forward ten years to when Leo is a high school senior. Unfortunately Leo is still enduring the endless cycle of cutting weight. Scenes of Leo throwing up, bingeing and a continuous training regiment to keep his weight down make that apparent. This isn’t the focus of the movie but it was established early on and contributes to the story line. The big picture was Leo’s dedication to the sport because of his love for his father. Leo’s father only wanted the best for his son. He wanted his son to get a wrestling scholarship so that he could have an education and not be stuck working in the mines like himself. Family life was tough all the way around. The parents didn’t see eye-to-eye on how to raise their family, particularly Leo. The father had a relentless pursuit that pushed his son too far and the mother had a prescription drug and alcohol problem.

James Petulla playing his overbearing father did an outstanding job. As a parent you get the feeling that Edward is living his dream through his son. But at the same time you know that he is really pushing his son to succeed for his son’s own good: to open the door for greater opportunities for a better life that he never had. He didn’t want his son to go down the same road he did, working in the mines with no opportunity to move up. You could really relate to Edward and how we always want it better for our children. Our motives are good but our actions don’t always come across the way we want them to. James did an excellent job of selling his character in the movie. He was pushy but at the same time you could see a real love for his son. It was hard to believe that this was James’s first major role, very impressive.

Danny Mousetis (Leo) played a huge wrestling role. His mellow personality really fit his role perfectly. Leo was constantly trying to please his father by working hard and getting his weight down. Leo also felt responsible for his girlfriend’s death. He felt had he not made wrestling his priority (or his father’s priority) that he would have been at the party and Shaw (his girlfriend) wouldn’t have been driving home from the party drunk. All this played a part to his somber role in the movie. The intense wrestling scenes made it evident that Danny had actual wrestling experience. As we all know, wrestling isn’t something you can just teach in a matter of months.

Out of nowhere comes Justin Spates (Thurman), the tough newcomer on the team. You would never believe that this was Justin’s acting debut. The perky, energetic Justin obviously didn’t have screen fright. In one of the scenes Thurman and his father were leaving wrestling practice after a confrontation with the coach. Thurman gets upset with his father and tackles him on the school lawn. Justin’s true wrestling experience really showed as he continued to wrestle with his father who was much heavier. He definitely had the upper hand. Hopefully he will wait until his wrestling career is over before his acting career takes off. Justin obviously played a key role in the wrestling scenes and his wrestling experience was evident.

In the end the weight cutting, loss of first love Shaw (drunk driving accident), rivalry of a new team member Thurman and the pressures of family life force Leo to leave Pennsylvania. The last scene of the movie shows Leo hugging his father before boarding a plane to go to California and live with his uncle.

All in all, the movie “Reversal” has what it takes to be very successful. A strong story line, great wrestling, outstanding cinematography and soundtrack, and an acting core that really sells the movie. As an ex-coach I left the theater with a true reminder of the weight cutting problems we have in our sport. At the same time, meeting James Petulla you realize even after all the difficult times in his life that wrestling truly is what shaped him into the person he is today. “Reversal” is genuine. This is James Petulla’s life and he put a lot of heartaches on the table for everyone to witness. Hats off to him for telling it the way it was no matter how difficult it may have been. To top it off, James not only invested his own money but he is basically promoting the movie on his own with no block buster stars or a huge movie studio behind him.

“Reversal” is a true reminder of the dangerous weight cutting practice: that still exists today. At the end of the movie there was a disclaimer on how the NCAA and the National High School Association have enacted weight cutting and weight certification policies. The wrestling community has made great strides in weight cutting procedures and policies, but the fact still remains that excessive weight cutting and eating disorders are still associated with our great sport. There are, without a question, better and healthier ways to go about losing weight. We as coaches and parents must teach these nutritional aspects for a healthier wrestling experience. Aside from the weight cutting, wrestling teaches so much more: Dedication, determination, discipline, perseverance, self-responsibility, work ethic plus so much more. Standing out in the middle of the mat it’s you and him and only one will come out on top. Wrestling is life when you really think about it. It’s you versus the world out there, either you survive or you don’t. James Petulla survived and he is a better person because of wrestling.