Hands of Stone
Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Starring: Edgar Ramirez, Robert DeNiro, Usher Raymond, Ruben Blades, Ana de Armas, John Turturro, and Ellen Barkin
Ask any true boxing fan to list their top ten greatest boxers of all time and it's a safe bet that Roberto Durán will end up on many of the lists. Roberto Durán Samaniego is Panamanian icon, a symbol at one point during his professional boxing career of freedom for the people. Mr. Durán is widely regarded as one of the best lightweight champions of all time, dominating the division for over seven years and moving up a weight class to defeat Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Mr. Durán was a brawler, a fighter’s fighter who talked loud and fought hard with very little flash or flair. Mr. Durán also faced a significant amount of backlash for an in-ring incident that changed his status in Panama from a hero to a coward.
Director Jonathan Jakubowicz brings this biopic to life with the help of Edgar Ramirez, who plays Roberto Durán, and Robert DeNiro, who plays legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel. Mr. Jakubowicz follows the linear rise and fall path for the story, combining a nice blend of boxing action, a rags-to-riches story of hard work and dedication, and also a political drama that displays the tensions with America during this time in the 1970’s.
The film begins with a defining moment for a young Roberto Durán, watching tensions build and violence erupt between U.S. soldiers and Panamanian protestors and then being shot at for stealing mangos at the U.S. occupied Panama Canal. Durán is an arrogant adolescent who grows into an equally hardheaded man who is a naturally skilled fighter. Retired trainer Ray Arcel spots this talent at a boxing match, prompting him to come out of retirement to train the young fighter and lead him to a match against Olympic and welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond).
The performances from all involved are great. Edgar Ramirez composes the many facets of Mr. Durán’s personality that both exalted him to iconic levels amongst his people but also ultimately lead to his self-destruction. Mr. Ramirez has a charisma that works for the character; it’s a charm that leads to people loving him but also assists in crafting menacing mind games he would use on his opponents. Robert DeNiro is the performance highlight of the film; it’s so nice to see Mr. DeNiro in this kind of role. He is reserved enough to assist his counterparts but also present enough to display a tenderness and compassion that helps him break through the tough exterior and ego that is Roberto Durán.
Unfortunately the narrative doesn’t do much to help the film reach the potential of the subject. The push to compose an encompassing biopic during this defining time in the fighter's life also leads to moments that drag the film down. Everything seen in the film can be easily found by watching one of the many documentaries done on Durán.
The fight scenes are nicely composed, a mix of the “Rocky” style of boxing photography along with pieces that emulate “Raging Bull”. However, neither really works well enough here to bring the kind of excitement one would have had watching the fighting style Durán was known for.
“Hands of Stone”, a nickname The fighter developed early in his career, offers a tame boxing experience with some really good performances. While the film may not compare well to other boxing films, as a biopic about a great fighter it succeeds enough.
3.00 out of 5.00