Even the most stony of fighters become soft sometimes. Panamanian Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez) was born into nothing; no education, no father to learn from, etc. His home country of Panama is under political turmoil from the United States of America. In spite of all of this, Duran uses this to become a skilled and hardened boxer.
With the help of legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert de Niro), Duran makes his way up the ranks, undefeated, to challenge fellow undefeated lightweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV). Duran gets to the apex of the boxing sport, but everyone knows that the fall is easily as precipitous, if not more so, than the rise.
What to make of Hands of Stone, the latest boxing epic in a genre that seems to have found revitalized life in the last year? Well, much of what has been made before, really. This is to say that Hands of Stone is watchable, good in some aspects, poor in others. If it were a 15 round fight, it goes about 7 and a half.
The film is directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, unknown to this viewer before this film. Pretty clear to see he’s got passion for this project, and is dedicated to telling if not all of the highs and lows of Duran’s story, than at least most of them. The production does suffer from a few things. There’s really no sense of time even with the date stamps provided; yours truly was a little shocked that some of the fights and events in the film were much more spaced out according to Wikipedia then they appeared to be in the film. Particularly, the end comes very quick, not too long after our hero has hit rock bottom. A real oddity is the inclusion of nudity. I’m no prude (especially for the beautiful Ana de Armas), but the bare skin serves nothing to the story and it actually goes on a little long.
As for the in-ring action, it is sort of disappointing. Perhaps we are all still spoiled off of Creed with the technical prowess Ryan Coogler exhibited in his pugilism scenes. Hands of Stone can sometimes look like it was filmed with stone hands. Jakubowicz loves the 180 degree pans—not only for fighting—and it can become a little annoying. Questionable camera angles exist as well; for every good sequence, an equally scattershot one is found where it can be hard to discern what is going on. Whether the result of stars that can’t go in the ring, or poor direction, it is nonetheless frustrating.
A few points on the scorecard are earned for the very solid work turned in the cast, though. Not counting Grudge Match, it is interesting to see Robert de Niro return to a boxing movie as a trainer, like Sly did as Rocky (obviously not being as linear). This isn’t a return to form for the legend, but it is certainly way less embarrassing than his appearance in Dirty Grandpa, and dry and unneeded story narration aside, he delivers a few dramatic highlights.
However, he’s actually outshined by a few of his less heralded cast-mates. Edgar Ramírez is Duran, and in a better movie we may be talking about his performance more. He’s compelling even in somewhat of a basic biographical/rise-fall boxing movie, and not a cookie-cutter protagonist, that term being used loosely here. All things considered, Usher keeps up and looks the role of Sugar Ray Leonard, not forcing Raymond to have to stretch too much as a pretty boy. Ana de Armas shows she can be much more than a pretty face moving forward, she’s very capable opposite Ramírez.
Upon its conclusion, Hands of Stone feels like a boxer who has the potential knockout power, but never cared to learn how to box and take in the sweet science. He’s missing a few crucial things to make himself a true contender.
Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, teaser-trailer.com, and traileraddict.com.
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