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Review: Hands of Stone

Hands of Stone
08.26.2016
5 10

Hands of Stone movie review Edgar Ramirez Robert De Niro Usher Raymond

PLOT: The rollercoaster life of Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran includes rising up from the streets of Panama to become one of the greatest fighters of his time, his friendship with trainer Ray Arcel and his rivalry with American showboat Sugar Ray Leonard.

REVIEW: Roberto Duran is such a dynamic, fascinating figure, it's hard to believe it took this long to bring his vivacious personality to the big screen. But perhaps the very bigness of his life is too much for your standard biopic; or, maybe just too big for writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz, who can't quite corral Duran's story into a workable film. HANDS OF STONE is a bit messy and undisciplined, and while a handful of very good performances make it watchable, they're not enough to turn the film into a particularly memorable experience. A standard biopic is what it ultimately is.

Hands of Stone movie review Edgar Ramirez Robert De Niro Usher Raymond

The main problem, I think, is that Jakubowicz simply tries to fit everything he can into a packed 105 minute run time, and he should have allowed some of the material to fall by the wayside in order to focus on the more important moments. We don't really need to see Duran as a young misfit in Panama, learning how to box on the streets, nor do we need the many political subplots that intrude on the film occasionally, fighting for our attention. No doubt this stuff was important to Duran the person, but the film often feels like it's trying to cram every last significant moment and player in Duran's life in front of our eyes. These things end up overshadowing the more interesting stuff in the film, like Duran's rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard or his friendship with his trainer, Ray Arcel.

Robert De Niro, who of course is in the best movie about a boxer of all time, plays Arcel as a kindly man and an intense trainer, just the kind of man to balance out the wild and frequently moody Duran. It's refreshing to see De Niro tackle a role of consequence; it's a low-key performance but gripping all the same. Duran is played by Edgar Ramirez, and he's excellent; he sells us Duran's moments of charm just as well as he does the boxer's frustrating arrogance and bitterness. The two actors are commanding on screen together, and the movie is often at its best when they're having a simple conversation. HANDS OF STONE also perks up with the addition of Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard, the charismatic fighter who would ultimately become inextricably linked with Duran thanks to their two bouts, the first of which Duran won, the second of which he infamously quit in the eighth round. Usher, who I've never really paid much mind to as an actor in the past, is really superb here, and the handful of scenes he has with Duran are quite compelling.

Hands of Stone movie review Edgar Ramirez Robert De Niro Usher Raymond

Sadly we don't get nearly enough of these moments, thanks to the film's habit of cutting away to random subplots (Duran's father trying to re-enter his life, Arcel's problems with the mob, the Panama Canal being handed over by the U.S., Arcel's previously unknown daughter appearing out of nowhere) that seem to take away from what we really care about. Jakubowicz's last feature film came in 2005 (the critically acclaimed SECUSTRO EXPRESS), with only a couple TV gigs in between; he clearly is passionate about his subject matter, but it's just as clear the project needed a more steady, experienced hand on the wheel.

It's a good-looking film, and the period settings and costumes are certainly believable. The fight scenes will never be mentioned in the same breath as RAGING BULL's but they're serviceable, especially when Leonard - with his dances and struts - comes into the picture. The supporting cast is appealing, with Ana de Armas as Duran's put-upon wife to Ellen Barkin as Arcel's. There are plenty of nice things to say about the movie, and yet it barely leaves a mark. And that's unthinkable when you're talking about Duran.

Source: JoBlo.com

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