“A disorganized mess”

by Steve Pulaski

The tragedy with Hands of Stone is it’s in the position to be a thought-provoking, even enlightening character study on a boxer who did one of the most baffling things in the history of the sport. On November 25, 1980, during the eighth round of a rematch fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán simply turned his back to Sugar Ray and uttered the phrase, “no más” (Spanish for “no more”). At that moment, Durán had claimed he retired from boxing, only citing stomach pains and perpetual feelings of discomfort as his reason for bowing out so early.

What could’ve motivated him, what ultimately set him off, and what was ultimately going through his mind to completely throw away and discard the opportunity to reallyset himself above other boxers could’ve made for a psychologically conscious and intellectually stimulating film. Instead, however, Durán is done a serious disservice with the middling and thoroughly unengaging Hands of Stone, a film that settles with breathlessly trying to cover all of the moments of his personal life when it ends up humanizing few and shortchanging much of his incredible, layered story.

The plus-side of the whole thing is Durán is portrayed by Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez of Carlos and Zero Dark Thirty fame, who tries his best to be engaging to watch despite working with such thin, caricature-level material. The film initially follows his professional boxing career shortly before coming in contact with the legendary boxing manager Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), whom he pairs up with just in time to fight Sugar Ray Leonard (R&B singer Usher Raymond IV) for the first time in June 1980.

Hands of Stone
Directed by
Jonathan Jakubowicz
Edgar Ramírez, Usher Raymond, Robert De Niro
Release Date
26 August 2016
Steve’s Grade: D+

Interjected in the early part of the film are flashbacks to Durán’s upbringing, which can best be described as underprivileged, where his mother and numerous siblings lived in a war-torn food desert, where conflict and starvation were common. Young angst and bottled up anger about his situation and his father’s absence seemed to take a toll on him so much so that boxing was his only outlet at the tender age of sixteen. And soon enough, it became his career.

Following that, the film focuses on a barrage of things, right down to Durán’s relationship with Felicidad (Ana de Armas, who also stars in the now playing War Dogs), whom he practically marries and has several children with – all named Roberto – on the spot, but most notably his relationship with Arcel. Arcel treated Durán like the son he never had, with the most intimate treatment coming in the form of grooming Durán during brief breaks between rounds in matches by combing his hair. By giving Durán the look of someone who had not been at all physically affected by repeated blows, Arcel stated this was done to psychologically mess with his opponent and weaken his performance.

Hands of Stone simply tries to juggle too much, and with a character as complex as Durán, in terms of his mental stability being questionable at times and his fighting style being tricky and elaborate, you really need a film to pick one thing or another on which to focus. Unfortunately, first-time writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz can’t decide what part of Durán he wants to focus on, so as a result, the film at hand becomes a disorganized mess of pale plot-strands scarcely circumventing or coming together to paint a cohesive picture.

Give credit to Ramírez, De Niro, Usher, and even de Armas, all of whom give admirable performances that only feel like average ones because of the mediocrity in the film’s narrative structure and focus. While Hands of Stone might not be the most pitiful nor most contemptible sports film of the last few years, it is one of the most uninspired, going through the motions with a dead-on-arrival presentation that really shows itself once you watch the end credits and feel as if you learned more about Durán and company at that moment then you did watching the film.