Film: “Hands of Stone”; Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz; Cast: Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Usher Raymond IV, Ana De Armas, Ruben Blades, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro; Rating: ***
Tough moments don’t last, tough people do. Hands of Stone is the story of one such tough guy, Roberto Duran, a professional boxer from Panama, who rose from the streets. He competed from 1968 to 2001 and was widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.
The film, gets its name from Duran’s nickname, “Manos de Piedra,” for his devastating and aggressive punching power that would knock out his opponents.
Narrated in a non-linear manner, the writing weighs it down. The film covers the period from 1964 to the late 1980s, with the political scenario of Panama as the back-drop. The screenplay written by Director Jonathan Jakubowicz, details the relationships between Duran, his wife Felicidad, trainer – the legendary Ray Arcel, manager Carlos Eleta, friend “Chaflan” and boxing opponent -Sugar Ray Leonard. It reveals too much in too short a time span, inadvertently making the film more about a series of events rather than the characters participating. The subplots are obvious digressions that distract and they do not add any gravitas to the narrative.
With his fine performance that highlights his angst and ambition, David Arosemena as the Kid Duran, lays the foundation for Edgar Ramirez who too, is sincere and effortless as a macho fighter – Roberto Duran. Ramirez essays his part as the hot headed, patriotic boxer with ease. He is equally charming when he woos Felicidad on the streets.
Ana de Armas portraying Duran’s love interest Felicidad, is natural and their onscreen chemistry is palpable.
Robert De Niro as the American mentor-coach is more of a strategist who works on the mind rather than the body and is not convincing as a boxer’s trainer. Nevertheless, it is a treat to watch him perform.
Ruben Blades as the richest man in Panama who sets up Duran as a world class fighter and later becomes his manager, is at the periphery of the tale and thus has nothing much to offer.
With moderate production values, the 80s atmosphere is brilliantly created by Production designer Tomas Voth and costume designer Bina Daigeler.
While the visuals are ingeniously captured by Cinematographer Miguel Loann Littin Menz’s lens, some frames especially the ones in the boxing arena are a bit disappointing, probably that is because of the poorly choreographed action sequences. The jerky camera work during the fight scenes are poorly edited making it difficult to follow the action in the ring.
The background music scored by Angelo Milli, is rousing and the pieces played during the boxing matches are intense and adrenaline packed.
Overall, “Hands of Stone” is a good biopic that is predictable in a melodramatic way. It is worth a watch despite it not being inspirational.
By Troy Ribeiro