Boxing movies have a soft spot in my heart, it’s not so much the bone crunching violence that appeals but the stuff of legend that emerges from the mayhem.
With Hands of Stone, we are faced with a familiar formula – boy from the streets makes good as a boxer. Such material is what keeps people coming back to the cinema. While we have seen this in a myriad of forms, the feel good factor of the movie makes you leave the cinema all warm and tingly.
A biopic in the vein of Cinderella Man, Hands of Stone follows the trials and tribulations of Panaman professional boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) through his career successes and failures. Though his rise to the top feels more like an helicopter ride to the summit rather than one of a boxer who had to sacrifice much to scale the peak.
In fact, the only point in the movie that really had Durán on the ropes was the weigh in before his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). Having won the first fight with next to no effort, Durán struggled with fame and the eventual weight gain following his victory.
A movie in which the greatest enemy comes from the hero himself isn’t exactly the most convincing.
As the story plods along, Durán eventually qualifies for the bout but infamously throws in the towel mid fight. Sugar Ray Leonard comes across as the most peripheral opponent in all the boxing movies I’ve watched. But, that’s just the way history has written itself. It’s hard to believe the actual pivotal moment in the movie can be such a let down.
However, taking a step back and comparing Durán’s fortunes with that of Panama, we start to see the parallels in which both country and boxer’s fortunes seem to ebb and flow the same way. In the background, we’re shown how American imperialism had affected Panama in its dealings of the Panama Canal. At Durán’s nadir, we see how his abandonment of the fight against the American Sugar Ray Leonard was seen as a blow against Panamanian Pride when the country needed him the most.
It must have been tough being a Panama citizen back then when the heroes you look up to the most fall against the establishment.
Sadly, this is where the story fizzles off, Durán does not gain revenge against Sugar Ray Leonard and finds redemption in the mauling of Davey Moore. At this point of time you might be wondering, “Where’s Robert De Niro?” in all of this. I’d say it’s a good thing that as Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), De Niro does a good job in standing by the sidelines and keeping the spotlight on Durán who in most part has been portrayed well by Edgar Ramírez with great intensity.
With an average plot padded well with enough splashy fight scenes to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, you feel that Hands of Stone could have done much more to chronicle to life of Roberto Durán with more punch.