Hands of Stone

hands of stone PHOTO

I’m a huge boxing fan, but that means I either love or hate boxing movies. I’m one of the few critics that didn’t care for Creed, and one of the few that liked Southpaw (despite the flaws in the film). I was eager to see this movie on Roberto Duran, one of the best boxers of all-time. Unfortunately for him, more people remember his famous “No mas” phrase over his nickname — Manos de piedra (hands of stone). Duran has always claimed he never said “no mas,” but it doesn’t really matter. He quit in the middle of the fight, making it one of the strangest incidences hey…this was made in conjunction with Duran’s family and the Panama Film Commission, so…

This boxing bio-pic was done by Venezuelan writer/director Jonathan Kakubowicz (Secuestro in boxing history. And the movie didn’t seem to devote enough time to that incident. But Express). who was an American trainer that the mob forced out of boxing. He had trained many greats (including Ezzard Charles and Jim Braddock). Arcel ends up training Duran for free, and the He shows us Duran’s early years, controversy with the Panama Canal, his hatred of America, and his marriage. Then it basically became a generic boxing film, which is a shame. There were so many times I was wishing the movie would’ve been made about Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), movie hardly delves into their tumultuous relationship. We occasionally have Duran call him a name, but in reality…Duran was a really big jerk. This movie hardly shows just how bad he was. One thing it did show, was done in a rather odd way. He follows a blonde school girl (Ana de Armas, who recently played the wife in War Dogs). At first I thought it would be cute, the way Ritchie Valens followed Donna in the La Bamba. Instead, he grabs her, and harshly pulls her into an alley. I thought she was about to be raped. He gets in her face, and is either trying to kiss her or…I don’t know what. He finally says he’s going to marry her. And once she sees people in the neighborhood clammering around him because he wins a few fights, then she’s intrigued. So…is she a gold digger? These scenes really turn us off on both these characters.

I wanted the movie to show us more about how Duran won titles in multiple weight classes, which wasn’t as common back then. I wanted to see the third fight with Sugar Ray Leonard (the film never addresses that). Instead, we see a poor kid stealing mangoes off a tree, and being mean to a clown in town that everyone adored and would take a young Duran in.

The cast is terrific. Edgar Ramirez (who was one of the few things I liked about Joy) plays Duran, and Robert De Niro (Raging Bull) plays Arcel. It’s a role he could’ve done in his sleep. Although he’s not required to do much, he’s great in the part, despite a few of the lines being rather weak. For example, when a promoter books a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard a few months after the first fight, he’s worried about the 40 pounds Duran has gained from partying. Arcel barks, “The kid is hungry! Let him eat!”

It made me think of all the terrific lines De Niro had in Raging Bull, and wished a better script could’ve been provided.

Now, for the elephant in the room (no, not Duran after the 40 pound weight gain). The casting of singer Usher as Sugar Ray. He’s terrific in the part except for one thing. He doesn’t look enough like Leonard. That wouldn’t be as distracting if it were an unknown actor and not…Usher! It really takes you out of the picture. It would’ve been like if they cast Morgan Freeman as Don King.

[King was played by Reg E. Cathey in this, which is a great choice, as he doesn’t bring any baggage.]

John Turturro plays a mobster, and he’s fine as a menacing figure that pops up a few times in the film.

Multi-talented Panamanian actor/musician Ruben Blades is perfectly cast as the rich guy who sponsored Duran, and has to deal with his temper. In this movie, Blades is shown as the bad guy. I’m guessing in real life, it was the opposite. Duran was a jerk, and you couldn’t disagree with him. We see glimpses of it in this movie (when Arcel makes the mistake of complimenting another fighter, when his childhood friend is swimming in his pool at a party, etc.).

It would’ve been interesting if the movie showed that after the second Leonard fight, Arcel went to train Larry Holmes in the much publicized fight with Gerry Cooney. I also would’ve liked to see just how much Duran delved into drugs and alcohol, which were always rumoured. Overall, it was compelling enough for me, although I don’t know if there’s enough for the non-boxing fan.

I brought a legendary, retired Golden Gloves fighter (Sonny Nevarez) with me to the screening. He had a blast.

This gets 3 stars out of 5.

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