Amazing performances, strong source-material but a fragmented story hinders some of the enjoyment.
“HANDS OF STONE” is written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz and stars; Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Usher Raymond, Ana De Armas and Ruben Blades. The story covers the historic career of Roberto Duran, a Panamanian boxer who started his career at the age of 16 and when he met legendary trainer Ray Arcel, would go on to win the WBC welterweight belt by beating Sugar Ray Leonard. Duran’s career however would live in infamy after his rematch with Leonard where he quit mid-round, shocking the boxing world, and betraying a nation of fans who worshiped him.
I honestly enjoy boxing movies more than the sport itself, so I was excited for this film and with a great cast, I was hoping for compelling story covering the life of Roberto Duran. The cast in this film was as good onscreen as they were on paper, with all of them bringing in great performances.
Edgar Ramirez was excellent in the lead, he exuded the personality of the famous boxer, looked the part of a champion and when the script called for him to deliver the emotion of Duran’s more darker moments, he was fantastic. Robert De Niro was excellent as well delivering his best performance in years. With all the complaints of De Niro mailing it in for simple roles to make a paycheck in recent years, when he wants to, he is still as superb an actor as there is in Hollywood. In this performance, he excellently showcases his talents as the legendary trainer Ray Arcel.
De Niro and Ramirez showed a strong chemistry with one another and you could feel the energy between them as Arcel becomes a father figure to Duran during their time together. De Niro also captures the patience he took with Duran and his personality, knowing it was all deeply rooted, and not just superficial theatrics.
The rest of the cast were all very good as well. Ana De Armas delivers the best performance of her career. Ruben Blades was a solid addition as Duran’s manager, servicing as a stark contrast in his dynamic with Duran as opposed to De Niro’s. Ellen Barkin and John Turturro were bright spots was well in their smaller roles with their delivery making you want more of them in the story.
Usher Raymond shows plenty of effort in his portrayal of Sugar Ray Leonard as well and while he may not have the acting experience, he never felt out of place in this film. He did his homework, looked the part of the famous boxer with his in-the-ring techniques, and created a realistic persona to him as well.
Now as for the story, it was good, very good, but it had the potential to be great. It told a relatively deep story of the life Duran led, but many aspects were not covered in much detail. The story made awkward advancements throughout as it tried to fit everything in, and it cost the story its flow. It was very fragmented at times and some aspects of the story were glossed over and not properly worked into what could have been a well-structured, and immersive script.
If you know me you know I routinely say films can be shorter but in this instance, it could have been twenty-minutes longer. Hitting at around the two-hour ten-minute mark, this could have filled in some blank spots in the story and added some information to the influences in Duran’s life. At times, it felt like someone hit the scene advance button as sections of information was missing, but what this story did deliver, was certainly entertaining enough.
It was a compelling story of a real man and results it a captivating movie, but not to the level it could have been. With these performances, the story, had it been a little thicker, could have made this an amazing movie instead of a pretty good one. It was a beautifully shot film; the locations were all excellent the set-design to the arenas felt like they were from the time-period, and using wide swinging shots truly capture the grand feel of the events. It was all extremely polished and visually appealing using a deep score and soft lighting to pull you into the settings.
The problem for me, and the biggest hindrance to this film, was the in-the-ring action. The performers looked like they had taken the time to get in shape, learn the sport, and their character’s ring style, only to have it hidden by claustrophobic camera techniques, and an abundance of over-editing. The delivery of the boxing in this movie was surprisingly underwhelming and almost looked like it was masking over performer inadequacies. I’m not sure if the intention was to create a more dramatic feel to the matches from a cinematic aspect, but all it did was pull me out of the action thus killing a lot of the intensity.
In the end this was an enjoyable film to watch but it didn’t meet its potential. The story was flawed but intriguing, and had the actual boxing not been the least compelling part of this film, the result would have been better. It’s a good movie with strong character performances and it is certainly worth the time. But when it’s all said and done this one will end up surprisingly low on the list of great boxing movies and it’s unfortunate because the source-material is amazing and the cast was great.
Time: 111 min
MPAA Rating: R (For language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)