There are two kinds of boxing movies: those that are content to follow a traditional narrative chronicling the rise (and sometimes fall) of an athlete and those that try to look a little deeper. It’s the difference between Cinderella Man and Raging Bull, Rocky II and Rocky. Sadly, Hands of Stone (which could be subtitled “The Roberto Duran Story”) stakes its claim in the former province. Traditional and uninspired, it does an adequate job of relating Duran’s story but falls short of providing an engaging cinematic experience.
Part of the problem is that the movie, written and directed by Venezuelan Jonathan Jakubowicz, can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. With enough subplots and secondary stories to fill a 10-episode miniseries, Hands of Stone is unable to find its center. The decision to highlight characters other than Duran (played with ferocious intensity by Edgar Ramirez) squeezes the protagonist’s account, forcing odd gaps into the non-linear chronology. The production as a whole feels rushed and many aspects of Duran’s life – his romance with his wife, Felicidad (Ana de Armas); his bonding with his trainer, Ray Arcel (Robert DeNiro); his rivalry-turned-friendship with American champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) – aren’t given sufficient screen time to breathe. Some stories benefit from condensation but this one, as envisioned, needs expansion.
Although there’s nothing wrong with Robert DeNiro’s performance (in fact, it’s nice seeing him play it straight after enduring far too many of his “comedic” turns, which have become increasingly less amusing), his presence creates a problem. Apparently unwilling to accord his most famous actor with a limited role, Jakubowicz makes the dubious decision of expanding Arcel’s importance to the point where he has nearly as much screen time as Duran. There are scenes with him at home with his wife, Stephanie (Ellen Barkin), and his daughter, Adele (played by DeNiro’s real-life daughter, Drena). This gives us more DeNiro at the expense of narrative flow. Similarly, to provide musician-turned-actor Usher more exposure, Hands of Stone inflates Sugar Ray Leonard’s involvement.
Although Hands of Stone is essentially a recap of the early part of Duran’s career – his pre-championship bouts, his memorable fight with Leonard in June 1980, the “No Mas” Leonard rematch, and his return to the ring in 1983 – it at least tries to be a little more. Jakubowicz attempts to add a political element to the story by interweaving Duran’s ambitions with his strong anti-American beliefs. We see flashbacks of him as a boy watching protests against the U.S. “occupation” of his native Panama in the Canal region. His father, an American, is said to have abandoned him into poverty. So, when he fights Leonard for the first time, he views himself as a symbol of Panamanian strength attempting to topple American arrogance. Jakubowicz shoehorns some of this into the movie but, cramped by time constraints, it doesn’t resonate as strongly as it might have.
Boxing, especially in movies, is often portrayed as a purely physical activity. It’s all about training, stamina, and strength. It’s no coincidence that the most famous montage in the entire subgenre, the “Gonna Fly Now” sequence from Rocky, is about the physical preparation for a match. Hands of Stone argues that the mental aspect of the sport is of equal importance. Arcel’s favorite word is “strategy” and he hammers home his philosophy that boxing is won not by physical domination in the ring but by getting inside the opponent’s head. Duran takes this to heart. Before his first encounter with Leonard, he goads the American into abandoning his quick, wasp-like style in favor of a more “macho” one. Leonard, belatedly recognizing his mistake, turns the tables on Duran in the rematch.
The full arc of Duran’s career would have been impossible to contain in a single film, especially considering how much trouble Hands of Stone has encapsulating approximately four years of it. The boxer continued fighting for 18 years after the movie’s end. However, this snapshot of the champion at his most dominant and controversial affords insight into the forces that shaped Duran into the public figure he became. It’s unfortunate that Jakubowicz isn’t able to provide a sharper focus for a movie that ends up with too much plot for too short a running time.
Hands of Stone Srt Sub Subtitle Download
Boxing has many rules and stipulations.
But other than not hitting below the belt, the single most important one is very simple: Never show fear or cowardice in the ring. You can be scared — hell, the prospect of getting your butt whupped in front of a crowd of thousands should probably terrify you — but you can never expose that fear, never back down from the challenge, under any circumstance.
Your trainer might see you getting killed and throw his towel to protect you, but you can’t stop until you’re either up on the ropes celebrating, or down on the canvas knocked flat. This starts to explain why Roberto Duran’s infamous “No mas” rematch against Sugar Ray Leonard back in 1980 — in which the proud Panamanian simply quit at the end of the eighth round, turning his back from Ray in the ring and shaking his head — stuck in the craw of boxing fans, leading them at the time to an almost universal disdain.
Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s striking Duran bio-pic Hands of Stone strongly suggests a reason for the former lightweight champ’s refusal to continue, and it had virtually nothing to do with the relatively light-punching theatrics of Leonard, who was determined to humiliate him following the first fight, in which Duran had successfully goaded the fleet Sugar Ray to stand toe-to-toe with him. Duran wasn’t afraid of continuing, we’re shown in the film, he was fed up with the corrupt orchestration of the sport, and the mounting pressure from his wife and countrymen to continue to beat down the American icon. In that brutally honest moment, he saw all too clearly the way the system was rigged — fighters fight and give their blood and sweat, while crooked promoters and sponsors rake in the clams at their expense — and simply couldn’t stomach it anymore.
We meet Duran (Edgar Ramirez) at the beginning of his pro career, as his manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), tries to convince the young hot-headed brawler to accept the legendary Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) as his new trainer. Arcel has his own history with the sport, having run afoul of the mafia some 20 years before and been warned to stay out of the fight game. At first, the masterful trainer and the young pupil don’t see eye-to-eye, but before too long, under Arcel’s careful tutelage, Duran starts rocketing up the rankings, until a championship prize fight is within his grasp.
As the film progresses, we also get vignettes of Duran as a boy, growing up poor in Panama City, always in the shadow of the American-protected canal, an arrangement met with increasing vehemence by his fellow countrymen. Born to an American father who immediately left his mother, Duran grows up with an enormous chip on his shoulder, one that is further fueled by fervent anti-Americanism (naturally, this is an issue between he and Arcel at first, but gradually he comes to see that the entire country isn’t bad), and a desire to take the imperialist Yankees to task, one beat down at a time.
The main reason there have been such a plethora of boxing dramas in cinema — highlighted by Rocky, but by no means the beginning of the wave — is the way the sport can so easily distill complex social politics and tangled emotional webbing into a single 20-square-foot patch of canvas. Invariably, the boxer who wins a given bout is the one who deserves it the most, either through his rough emotional journeys (think Southpaw), or his desire to succeed against all odds (Rocky). What Jakubowicz does, working from his screenplay, is to take some of these common boxing tropes — the grizzled trainer, the young, unbridled fighter, the rapid rise and descent of a boxer’s career — and rotate them ever so slightly to produce different angles, like the twist of a kaleidoscope.
By the time Duran fights Leonard (Usher Raymond) the first time, our sympathies are already a bit divided. Duran had repeatedly called Leonard a “clown.” Then when Duran meets up with Sugar Ray and his entourage, he promptly insults him and his wife. When he goes on to win the bout, taking home the championship belt, we see the Panamanians glued to their TVs, and storming the streets in celebration, but still can’t quite feel as if boxing justice has been done.
It’s an interesting angle, especially for an American audience. Jakubowicz, a native South American, doesn’t glom onto the easier story — about the ever-affable and supremely talented Leonard. He sticks with the complex and conflicted Duran, whose fractured psyche, fighting for himself, his homeland, his family, and emotionally against the father who deserted him, provides far more dramatic resonance. In the process, he also exposes a small corner of America’s overbearing and condescending policies in Central America at the time, as the CIA was continually backing one military leader over another from country to country in order to “preserve democracy,” inevitably leading to regional chaos.
In this shrewd film, no one is left off the hook, including Arcel, who is shown to have had an adopted daughter (played by De Niro’s actual daughter, Drena) he hid from his long-standing second wife (Ellen Barkin, a joy to watch on screen again); and certainly not Duran, who is forced to live with the branding of being a coward until he finally gets back in the ring with his mindset restored. It makes for a surprisingly interesting film, more subtle and multifaceted than the usual easy rise-and-fall justice typical of the genre.
We see Duran at his best and worst, and still come away with an enormous amount of respect for what he was able to accomplish. The infamous “No mas” bout becomes a small part of a much larger life. As far as bio-pics go — especially of still-living subjects — we could not hope for anything more candid.
More than anything Hands of Stone is frustrating because there is clearly a large scale to the film and real ambition from both writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the entire cast, but as is true with many a biopics Hands of Stone tries to do and tell its audience too much in too short a time span inadvertently making the film more about a series of events than the characters participating in those events. In theory this is supposed to be a movie about the relationship between Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) and legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) and while this goal is communicated well enough and understood there are so many extraneous things going on around the two central characters the film becomes distracted by its own plot strands. The word I’m looking for is “scattershot.” Hands of Stone is a broad strokes approach to the biopic, but in being so it communicates such key elements in haphazard ways thus forcing the audience to not invest as much as they should or even want to. Granted, the film does certain things right as this viewer in particular had no prior knowledge of Durán or his story yet I was immediately interested in the real life events the film was depicting. That is all to say the film is a little all over the place. This especially becomes true after the film effortlessly builds to Durán’s first bout with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) and completes that fight within the first hour of the film. While the film could have certainly told us all we needed to know about Durán through the lens of his Sugar Ray fights and all of the drama those entailed Hands of Stone instead feels the need to go further by not only telling us Durán’s story as a boxer, but his story as a Panamanian activist, Arcel’s story that deals with the New York City mob and a long-lost daughter even going as far to include Leonard’s perspective on certain things. Add in the familial drama that Durán creates and deals in with wife Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas) and their five children and there is enough material here for an HBO miniseries. Unfortunately, Hands of Stone is a feature film that clocks in under two hours and while it carries real momentum in the first hour leading up to that first showdown with Sugar Ray that energy is largely lost in the second half of the film leaving us with a movie that might have been something really special and unique did it not try so desperately to adhere to the worn-out sports drama template.