According to my press notes, aside from a little CGI to recreate famous arenas, HANDS OF STONE was shot in Panama and New York over a period of 65 days. With a 300-person crew and 15,000 extras, it isn’t only the biggest film ever created in Panama, but also the first Latino-based movie with the widest US release in history. This all became possible when the film was approved in the national congress of Panama as a National Interest Project. A special fund was then started to support the film and the entire nation helped in making it flourish. Every department head is Latino except for Fight Choreographer and Wardrobe Designer. After reading this, it was serious information I had to share.
That said, to this day, Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran remains the best lightweight fighter of all time. The sport of boxing has had its long list of greats. From Muhammed Ali to Mike Tyson, to Oscar de la Hoya and Julio Caesar Chavez, Sr., like Duran, the list of unique, talented, hungry fighters goes on and on. Driven by ruthless aggression, from child to man, this unique individual represents the art of struggle when all odds were stacked against him.
Narrated by Robert De Niro, HANDS OF STONE tells the story of how the legendary boxer (played by Edgar Ramirez) and his celebrated trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) changed each other’s lives. From 1964 through 1983, in the heart-beat of the golden era of boxing, the film centers among the ups, downs, and in-betweens that lead to Duran’s infamous rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher).
Granted arguments can and will be made, with films like RAGING BULL, CREED, THE FIGTHER, or even ROCKY, truth be told, If you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve seen them all. Rise, fall, and redemption happens to be the path all sport-based movies ride on. They’re all centered and presented with the same template. HANDS OF STONE isn’t any different, but the core factor here is it’s about Roberto, not Rocky. As one of boxing’s most prized fighters, the story of Roberto Duran (like any other athlete’s) is rough, rugged and raw.
On the flip, HANDS OF STONE isn’t just a story about Duran. It’s also a story about Duran’s trainer. Running on a subplot about Ray Arcel, a Jew from Harlem, it exposes the other side of Duran’s claim-to-fame as it presents the connection and psychological effect one man has on the other. Becoming the first boxing trainer to be elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame, we also learn about a man who trained more than 2,000 fighters in his 70-year career. The movie captures his comeback after a retirement forced by the Mafia. Inspired by Duran, Arcel agrees to train him for free, risking his own life, and embarking on a journey with drastic changes.
The overall exposure with Duran felt like the script had to cover bullet points. A checklist of sorts in order to provide the film its formula. It’s fine and acceptable when exposing Arcel. However, a little weak when looking to feel empathy or any kind of relation towards Duran. The exposure is there. You understand why things play out in certain form. His personal bitterness per se. But it breezes through everything, leaving gaps of cinematic emotion. The relationships between Duran and the rest of the cast seem to have an authentic and solid grip than the overall build-up to Duran’s harsh upbringing. And that’s fine… It just comes off a bit rushed. However, it’s overlooked and excused once its cast unleashes with their characters.
If there’s one thing this film has in its favor, it’s its strong, talented cast. I’m aware of Duran, but not too into who he was out of the ring. Edgar Ramirez never disappoints and thought he did the role a good service. Many will cringe at the fact that he doesn’t look like Duran, but in the end, it’s biopic birthed from a business where nothing is ever linked with authenticity. One of the most intense actors out in Hollywood, the Venezuelan born actor has that it-factor. You can feel his goods as it oozes through his character’s pours. Which, in turn, makes me wonder how much greater Duran would have come off had the script been more descriptive towards the individual.
De Niro, Tuturro (who plays a mobster), and Blades (who plays a boxing promoter) are always themselves, but it works. It always does. Usher on the other hand… I don’t know. Didn’t care much for him and/or his backstory. Then again, it wasn’t about Leonard, so maybe it wasn’t meant for me to care about anyway. Now, one of my personal favorites in this film is Ana de Armas, who plays Felicidad… Duran’s wife. Her chemistry with Ramirez was on point and very engaging. We’re starting to see more and more of this young, gorgeous actress. Lately in WAR DOGS and also in next year’s BLADE RUNNER sequel.
Overall, it’s the kind of film that winds up with its mouth-piece dangling to the side from time-to-time, but refuses to throw in the towel. Director Jonathan Jakubowicz (who also wrote the film) does seem to juggle the script’s uneven footing with moments of great grit and rugged filmmaking, which makes for an interesting watch. As a whole, the film has heart. One that beats to fight more than the actual story it exposes, but it beats strong, making HANDS OF STONE moving in its own way.
Grade: B / Genre: Bio-pic, Drama, Sports, Politics / Rated: R / Run Time: 1: 45
Starring: Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Ruben Blades, Ana de Armas, Ellen Barkin, Nick Tuturro
Directed by: Jonathan Jakubowicz
© 2016 The Weinstein Co.