PLOT Biopic of legendary boxing champion Roberto Durán
CAST Édgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Usher Raymond
RATED R (language and some sexuality/nudity)
BOTTOM LINE A boxing movie that’s just a little too conventional.
“Hands of Stone” is a sprawling yet fairly conventional biopic about the Panamanian boxing champion Roberto Durán. When he faced Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in 1980, he was 71-1. He won that match too, only to forfeit the title six months later in a bizarre rematch that’s become known as the “No Más Fight.” Popular myth would have us all believe that Durán said “No más” to end the match partway through. He’d fallen out of shape in the months between the two fights.
That event is dramatized in writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film, with Édgar Ramirez as Durán and the singer Usher Raymond as Leonard. But while it might be the showdown that has cemented Durán’s place in history, it’s hardly the main event of “Hands of Stone,” which strives to give context to Durán’s life.
Our entry is through Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), who comes to observe Durán in action before agreeing to train him. Durán’s already great, but Arcel wants to take him to the next level — the United States. Durán isn’t interested at first — he hates the United States for what it’s done to his country. The framework allows “Hands of Stone” to jump back in time to a re-enactment of the 1964 riots over the Panama Canal’s sovereignty.
Durán grew up in this heightened time that would color his political views into adulthood. He eventually gives himself over to Arcel, and they start down the path of making him a superstar, which leads to money, drugs and a hedonistic abandon that we’ve seen in films like this so, so many times.
It’s a little confusing why Jakubowicz packs in so much about Arcel. He’s certainly an interesting man, but his arc feels like an unnecessary side show.
Distractions aside, Ramirez and De Niro prove to be a good pairing. De Niro takes on the air of a kindly father figure. Ramirez is solidly compelling as Durán, even if the audience is kept at a distance and isn’t given an opportunity to truly empathize.
“Hands of Stone” is a solid film, but you can’t help shake the feeling that we’ve seen it all before.
4 earlier boxing films
The Roberto Duran biopic “Hands of Stone” joins a growing list of movies about real-life boxers (still to come in November: Miles Teller as Vinny Paz in “Bleed for This”). Here are four earlier boxing dramas about some of Duran’s contemporaries, including several knockouts.
TYSON (1995) — HBO’s movie starred Michael Jai White as boxing champ Mike Tyson, whose ring success was overshadowed by his stormy marriage to actress Robin Givens and a 1991 rape charge. Also in the cast were George C. Scott as Tyson’s manager Cus D’Amato and Paul Winfield as boxing promoter Don King.
THE HURRICANE (1999) — Denzel Washington trained for more than a year with a boxing coach to portray middleweight Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent nearly 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder.
ALI (2001) — Will Smith had his greatest role as “the Greatest” — boxing legend Muhammad Ali. In addition to his sports career, the movie focused on Ali’s Islam faith and his friendship with civil rights leader Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles).
THE FIGHTER (2010) — Though David O. Russell’s drama was ostensibly about boxer Mickey “Irish” Ward (Mark Wahlberg), Oscar winners Christian Bale and Melissa Leo dominate the movie as Ward’s crack-addicted brother and his domineering mother.— Daniel Bubbeo