Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“Hands Of Stone”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of The New York City Premiere for the new biography “Hands Of Stone”, starring Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro and Usher. 


When boxer Roberto Duran hires Ray Arcel as a trainer, he attains great success – but after suffering a professional setback, can Duran rebound?



Growing up poor in Panama, Roberto Duran (Ramirez) had to hustle to help his family survive after his American father abandoned them – something which helped form a deep-seated hatred for America and Americans.  After a local boxing trainer takes pity on him, he agrees to help the young Duran get fights where he earns money to support his mother and siblings.  As Duran grows up, his boxing skills become more impressive; it is at this point he is introduced to Eleta (Rubén Blades), a successful businessman who promotes matches.  Eleta brings Duran to America, where he gradually builds quite a reputation.

In 1971, Eleta invites Ray Arcel (De Niro) to see Duran fight; Duran impresses Arcel as a natural destined for greatness, but when Eleta tries to get Arcel to become Duran’s trainer, both Arcel and Duran are reluctant to enter into an arrangement.  Duran’s hatred of Americans makes him suspicious of Arcel; meanwhile, Arcel is wary of re-emerging from a forced retirement after a New York City mobster (John Turturro) threatened his life if he remained in the profession.  Agreeing to train Duran on the condition he does not make any money from his effort, Arcel consents to work with Duran. 

Throughout the 1970’s, Arcel and Duran make quite a team; Duran keeps winning and his notoriety grows.  By 1980, Duran earns a shot at the welterweight title against champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher); Duran wins, taking the championship from Leonard.  Disturbed, Leonard convinces Eleta to schedule a rematch months later.  But in that fight, Duran – who, to this point, has been enjoying his celebrity – has lost his drive.  The fight ends when Duran tells the referee he’s quitting, allegedly saying, “No mas” (“No more”) – causing Leonard to regain his belt.  But after going from Panama’s national hero to their national disgrace, can Duran make a comeback as a boxer?


When it comes to “Hands Of Stone”, the good news is it’s certainly no hagiography; Roberto Duran never comes across as a saint.  The bad news is Duran’s character is so obnoxious it is difficult to root for him – unfortunate, given that this is supposed to be his life story.  Certainly a biography that treats its subject as bordering on the saint-like would be difficult to watch not to mention unrealistic; however, the filmmakers seem to have encountered great difficulty riding the fine line of when to present Duran negatively and when not.  Ultimately, Duran’s film character crosses the line to the point the audience understandably must wonder why they should care about his outcome. 

In that regard, “Hands Of Stone” could be compared unfavorably to Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”.  Both stories are biographies of boxers who suffer a downfall – one professionally, the other personally.  Also, both show darker sides of their subject.  But where LaMotta  suffers for his misdeeds, never again reaching his previous level of success, Duran appears to attain some degree of redemption (albeit questionable).  Why should we care?  Regardless of whether or not Duran actually said, “No mas” in the re-match with Robinson (he claims he never did), the fact remains is that he quit and his motivation for doing so is rather murky (at least based on what we can discern from the movie).

Speaking of “Raging Bull”, it is worth mentioning that since that great film, it feels like De Niro has been desperately trying to find his next “Raging Bull” (“Hands Of Stone” isn’t it, nor was “Grudge Match”).  Having said that, what should also be noted is the character of Ray Arcel is much more compelling than Duran; that’s the motion picture that would be interesting to see.  How Arcel survived after being forced out by the mob is a fascinating story – not to mention a victorious one as he had a comeback of his own.  Maybe someday that picture will be made.       

Hands of Stone (2016) on IMDb

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