Happy Thursday MMT Fam! Being boxing fans and eager to see this release, both Darryl and myself felt obligated to share thoughts about the Roberto Duran biopic HANDS OF STONE.
Growing up during the time many have considered to be the golden age of boxing, from “76” to “86,” when every division had incredible boxers – who had the distinct advantage of living within the television/pay per view era – i found this biopic personal.
To set the atmosphere for the times… as opposite as black is from white, as distrustful Republicans are of Democrats, and as hateful Eagles fans are of the Cowboys, that’s how wide the chasm was between Panama and America and simultaneously… Duran fans from Sugar Ray Leonard fans. The slick, polished and perhaps coddled perception of Sugar Ray and his fans vs the brash, hard-working, and definitely no filtered lifestyle of Roberto Duran. It’s in highlighting these differences while excelling with some great performances is what makes this film entertaining, informative and well worth watching.
“Hands of Stone” has some great acting performances starting with Edgar Ramirez who eerily channels the spirit and fighting style of Roberto Duran. Welcome back Ruben Blades, as his presence and acting acumen brings a certain gravitas to the movie. Robert De Niro, who lately has given us questionable performances, isn’t sleep walking through this performance as he truly seems to care, playing one the greatest trainers in the history of boxing. Ana de Armas is beautifully understated playing the wife of Duran, and she holds this film together.
Now the performance of Usher will have the greatest debate as he seems to have been used more as a promotional tool than an actual great choice to play Sugar Ray. In “Hands of Stone,” Usher is very under used as if they are hiding his “acting ability.” Much of the time that he is on-screen, he is physically there but given no dialog. Not until later in the film is Usher given a chance to act, but with some scenes that aren’t essential to moving the story along. Ironically, choosing Usher for the lead role kind of matches the definition labeled upon Ray Leonard at the time… style over substance or perhaps life imitating art.
Deciding to stay with subtitles instead of forcing English into major parts of the film is one of the best choices from Director Jonathan Jakubowicz, one of the reasons this film stands up. “Hands of Stone” is a good history lesson into a man who was bigger than just a boxer, larger than the country he represented, and greater than the times that bore him. He went from being adored, hated, laughed at, shunned, redeemed and celebrated all because he was… “Hands of Stone.”
Anyone who’s followed this blog for more than a year knows I love the sport of boxing. I couldn’t wait to see “Southpaw.” I heavily promoted “Creed,” and not only screened it twice but went to the theaters opening night and paid to watch it again. So, it was a no-brainer that I would be first in line to screen HANDS OF STONE, the life story of Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, which featured his win against and infamous rematch with one of my favorite boxers ever – Sugar Ray Leonard.
Using Duran’s bouts with Leonard and his relationship with the late, famed trainer Ray Arcel – solidly played by Robert De Niro – to anchor and pivot the story, which is as much about the poverty and politics Duran faced in becoming a champion as it is about boxing, the film showcases the highs and lows of the boxer’s life and career.
Edgar Ramirez as Duran is fascinating as he captures the at times arrogant and explosive sides of his personality, as well as Duran’s comedic moments and his fighter instincts. And Ana De Armas as his wife and part moral compass, Felicidad, brings a strong performance as well.
I also enjoyed Usher Raymond IV in the role of Sugar Ray Leonard and thought he was a great casting choice – considering Leonard was known for his animated and lively displays, so it wasn’t far-fetched to watch Raymond, an actor/performer, as the welterweight legend.
Being an eight-year-old when Duran fought Leonard (alright, stop doing the math!), I wasn’t aware enough to understand the political tension/undercurrents surrounding the match. I walked away from this film with a better understanding of Duran’s motives, what the Leonard matches meant to him and the Panamanian people, and how much of a humanitarian Duran was, and continues to be.
At a running time of 105 minutes, the film is a short, entertaining, at times tragic, narrative that leaves the audience with much to cheer about.
HANDS OF STONE opens August 26 in theaters nationwide.