Hands of Stone Movie Review
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In a time where boxing has seemingly taken a backseat to the faster paced, and more brutal sport of mixed martial arts, the opposite seems to be true in the movie world. 2015 saw the release of two very solid boxing films in Southpaw (2015) starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Creed (2015) starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Now in 2016 there are a couple more boxing movies on the card. This time, however, biographies are all the rage. In late November Miles Teller will step into the ring for Bleed for This, a story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza. The other movie, which is the one we’re focusing on right now, is Hands of Stone and it chronicles the rise of a kid from Panama as he goes from starving to stardom.
Roberto Durán grew up in El Chorrillo, a district within Panama. This area was high in crime and low in odds to escape from the area. That doesn’t stop a young Roberto from doing whatever it takes to help provide for his mother and siblings. As a young child, he learns he has a natural gift of being able to fight. This natural physical ability and his brazen confidence to face adversity head on got him noticed. Boxing became both an outlet and a way out for him. As Roberto (Edgar Ramírez) grew into a young man, boxing became a sport that would define him for the ages. He learns to live, love and laugh and would come to learn that life will still have new challenges to overcome every day.
While Hands of Stone sheds light on Roberto’s formative years, it’s the story of his relationships, both personal and professional, that get the lion’s share of attention. The budding romance between he and Felicidad (Ana de Armas). The almost paternal bond with legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). The one fighter that would make or break his career and fine him going forward, Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). These are the elements that will have boxing purists most interested in seeing this movie.
There are two elements to Hands of Stone that will determine its success or failure in the box office. Firstly, how believable are these actors in playing the roles of their real life counterparts. I would consider that a win for the movie. What some of them lack in physical similarities looks to be made up in spirit. I would assume that Jonathan Jakubowicz had everyone spending a lot of time watching and learning their unique mannerisms, especially when it comes to Durán and Leonard. Thankfully there’s lots of available footage for them to comb through so there’s no excuse. The second element is, what I like to call, Hollywood honey. That’s the sweet stuff you drizzle on top to attract Average Joe Moviegoer. This is where things start to fall apart a bit. Lacking is adrenaline rush that audiences reach for with both hands. A boxing movie without a proper training montage?! You’re killing me!
Edgar Ramírez (Joy (2015)) is a delight to watch as he tackles the daunting task of portraying one of the greatest boxers of all time. Usher Raymond (The Faculty (1998)) does a decent job even with a few shortcomings. This is a huge undertaking for him, especially considering how much time Sugar Ray Leonard spent in front of the camera. Robert De Niro (The Intern (2015)) is the ultimate professional so it goes without saying that his performance is solid. Ana de Armas (War Dogs (2016)) continues to make a name for herself as she will be able to say that she costarred in solid movies released in back-to-back weeks. She’s a definite up and comer that audiences should keep an eye on. In Hands of Stone she provides a lot of passion on many levels which is greatly needed. Other notable actors lending their talents are Rubén Blades (AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead), Ellen Barkin (TNT’s Animal Kingdom) and John Turturro (Transformers film franchise).
So here’s the thing, right or wrong audiences love the exaggerated form of boxing. Hands of Stone does contain showmanship and entertainment but not quite enough to draw in the masses. Since there’s always two sides to every story, I’m sure that both camps, being Durán fans and Leonard fans, will have issues with the other. That being said, the on screen compromise is pretty fair. All in all, not to intentionally play the pun game here, Hands of Stone is a solid hit. There just isn’t enough to elevate it to a cult classic, which in the world of boxing films, is the definite dividing line. Check it out in theaters now.