‘Takedowns & Falls’
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”: The motto of the Dillon Panthers of “Friday Night Lights” could be that of the Central Dauphin Rams wrestlers, a Harrisburg, Pa., team featured in the documentary “Takedowns & Falls.” The Rams are led by a man of Coach Taylor-size charisma, Jeff Sweigard, who sets an example in his personal and professional life for his team, which is heavy on underclassmen.
Directors Todd Hickey and Kirk Ledger had extraordinary access to the Rams, starting 107 days before the state championships, in which Sweigard, entering the 2006-2007 season, has yet to coach a team or individual winner. We see his guys — starting with more than 40 members, ending up with about 30 — enduring bloody noses and nausea as they build up their endurance for what is undoubtedly one of the most physically grueling sports. And we meet the families, especially the Peppelmans, who have turned a barn on their property into a training center for Walter, a junior, and Marshall, a freshman. These kids are privileged but not pampered by their coaches or, from what we can see, their families.
For an audience of non-wrestling enthusiasts, however, the filmmakers’ access proves a bit of a takedown in itself. Unwilling, it appears, to waste their footage, they let the film drag on past the two-hour mark, tamping down the suspense they’re trying to build. And, unlike football, baseball or basketball, wrestling at its finest lacks the cinematic elements that can build to a crescendo. Watching a face get mashed into a mat isn’t the same as an end-zone ball spike. But it’s real, as are the struggles and achievements of Sweigard’s team. That’s enough.
No MPAA rating. Plays Fri.-Thu. at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. Running time: 2:02
— Maureen M. Hart