posted by Sam Kaplan
Todd Hickey and Kirk Ledger’s documentary Takedowns and Falls chronicles the ups and downs of Harrisburg’s Central Dauphin High School wrestling team during its 2006-2007 season. Takedowns abounds in sports-film cliches — a coach with health issues, kids facing personal misfortunes, tons of inspirational speeches — but Hickey’s characterizations are so affecting that it doesn’t matter.
The cast is full of characters that drive any good doc. There’s Doug Sweigard, a fifth-year senior and former wrestling phenom who burns with the manic, self-destructive energy of James Dean. There’s Tony Dallago, who went from 112 to 152 pounds between his freshman and sophomore years, jumping an unheard-of seven weight classes. There’s Marshall and Walter Peppelman, freshman and junior brothers — and the team’s heart and soul — who treat their teammates like family. And then there’s coach Jeff Sweigard, battling lymphoma and looking to avenge his own high school record at Central Dauphin, when he wrestled with a broken foot at the state championships and only placed second.
Takedowns works best when Temple film grads Hickey and Ledger (who are former Sweigard acolytes) gives his characters space to breathe and just be themselves. The film’s first half is over-edited, with too many quick cuts and short scenes, but things slow down as the season progresses, and by the time the team makes it to state, I was hooked. The wresting, often filmed in slow-motion, is at once savage and graceful.
On the big screen for two hours, a bunch of high schoolers becomes wrestling gods. And then it’s over. And their parents tell them to do their homework. In the end, it’s this amazing incongruity that makes the film so compelling.