Hands of Stone (2016): Sports Biopic of Roberto Duran, Well-Acted by Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro

Hands of Stone, a well-acted biopic of Roberto Duran, one of the most celebrated lightweight boxers, borrows its title from its hero’s nickname—fists of fury.

World premiering at the 2016 Cannes Film Fest (out of competition), Hands of Stone will be released by The Weinstein Company in the US.

This film, directed by the Venezuelan-born Jonathan Jakubowicz, does not illuminate sufficiently why Duran has never achieved the level of fame or popularity (in and outside the ring) that some of his peers (Muhammad Ali, or more recently, Mike Tyson) have accomplished.

The main issue that Jakubowicz faces, as writer and director, is how to find a distinctive take, a different angle on a genre—the boxing film—that has been extremely popular in American cinema from its very beginning. (The list of great sports flicks is too long to rehearse here).

As a result, what we get on screen is a rather familiar, conventionally done saga, elevated by the performances of the two stars, Edgard Ramirez in the title role, and Robert De Niro. (the two had shared the screen together last year in David O. Russell’s mediocre film, Joy).

As written and as played by Ramirez, Duran is expectedly aggressive, angry, wild, and hot-tempered—he wants to succeed at all costs for both personal and national considerations.

Early on, he is drafted into the ring as a poor boy growing up in Panama. Like many other screen heroes in such tales, Duran is emotionally bruised–his father, who abandoned him, was American, which makes him all the more ambitious and cocky.  The macho attitude is just a façade to a youngster with a chip on his shoulders and serious inferiority complexes.

In the background, there’s the broader politics of Panama as a country colonized by capitalistic American economy and culture.  The US government built and controlled the Panama Canal Zone circa 1904.

When he spots on the street Felicidad (Ana de Armas), a schoolgirl, he immediately decides to marry her
named Felicidad (played as an angel of fire by Ana de Armas).

Two men influence his mature life. Carlos Eleta (Rubén Blades), the country’s richest man, and especially who becomes his manager, and especially Ray Arcel (De Niro), a legendary trainer who boasts a record number of world champions fighters (no less than 18) he had trained.

Nonetheless, the Mob, represented by a smart gangster (John Turturro) has forced him out pf his lucrative position due to his goal making boxing national by setting up his own TV transactions.

Despite disparity of age and culture, Ray, who’s well into his 70s, and Roberto (R &R) immediately connect on any number of levels.

Roberto’s manager, eager to make an $8 million deal, arranges with Don King (Reg. E. Cathey) for Duran to fight again Sugar Ray Leonard.  The rematch, which takes place in the New Orleans Superdome on November 25, 1980, is a strange boxing match, to say the least, because Duran fought it for a while, and then gave up, for reasons that this biopic fail to provide or illuminate.

Running time: 116 Minutes.

A Weinstein Company release of a Fuego Films International, Vertical Media, Panama Film Commission production. Produced by Carlos Garcia de Paredes, Claudine Jakubowicz, Jonathan Jakubowicz, Jay Weisleder. Executive producers, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Ricardo Del Río, Robin Duran, George Edde, David Glasser, Bill Johnson, Max A. Keller, Jim Seibel, Benjamin Silverman, Sammy Weisleder. Associate producer, Eduoardo Ceballos.

Directed, written by Jonathan Jakubowicz. Camera, Miguel Ioann Littin Menz; editor, Ethan Maniquis; production designer, Tomas Voth; costume designer, Bina Daigeler; music, Angelo Milli; special effects supervisor, Daniel Cordero; casting, Dilva Barriga, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich.