Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) is considered by most fight experts to be, pound-for-pound, one of the greatest boxers of all time. The intimidating icon earned his nickname “Hands of Stone” by virtue of his prodigious displays of punching power.
Born in Panama in 1951, Roberto exhibited promise from the moment he first entered the ring at the age of 8. He turned pro at 16 and assumed the World Lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1972 after Ken Buchanan (John Duddy) failed to answer the bell for the 14th round. Roberto went on to knock out over 50 foes en route to compiling an impressive 62-1 record as a lightweight before moving up in weight class.
By the time he retired in 2002, Roberto would also hold the world welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight titles. But despite that incredible feat, he appears fated to be best remembered for crying “No mas!” before quitting midway through his Welterweight World Championship rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). And although he would eventually return to the ring, that one display of cowardice effectively overshadowed his sizable subsequent achievements.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express), Hands of Stone is a reverential biopic which humanizes Roberto while putting a positive spin on his indelible stain. This version of his story blames Duran’s failing on his parasitic manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), as well as on pressure from the big fight’s promoter, Don King (Reg E. Cathey).
Here, we’re treated to the backstage specter of a burnt-out Roberto bemoaning his being exploited. “I worked all my life. I didn’t have any fun, when I was a kid.” Truth be told, not only did he begin boxing young, but he married at an early age, too, 17. And his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas) was only 14 when they tied the knot. FYI, the couple went on to have 8 children and are still together 47 years later.
If the movie has a flaw, it’s in the fight scenes which leave a lot to be desired. Anyone expecting cinema verite on the order of Rocky or Raging Bull, for which Robert De Niro won an Academy Award in 1981, is destined to be disappointed.
Speaking of De Niro, he plays the legendary Ray Arcel who came out of retirement over death threats from the Mafia to train a teenaged Duran. Before you can say “Burgess Meredith,” he whips the promising protege into fighting shape, and it’s just a matter of time before his diamond in the rough’s rags-to-riches dream becomes a reality.
A touching, revisionist tale of redemption presenting the sensitive side of a pulverizing pugilist.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 105 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
To see a trailer for Hands of Stone, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNzXeY9OBxI