By Chris Campo
What's the deal with all these damn boxing movies? Hands of Stone is the first of two this year (Bleed for This is due out this November here in America), and last year we had two boxing films as well! I'm not necessarily complaining, I'm just curious as to why SO many boxing movies have been green-lit lately. That being said, it's time to review the latest. Hands of Stone is a late summer film that just may be worth your time, or at least if you're into these sorts of movies.
This true story is narrated by Ray Arcel (Robert Ne Niro), Boxing trainer legend. After a run in with the Mafia, Arcel vows to make some money off of boxing, or else he will be killed. Fast forward twenty years and he crosses paths with Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), a young, cocky fighter who fought his whole life to provide for his family. Even though Duran has a grudge against Americans, he agrees to be trained for free by Arcel with one goal: The World Championship. However, two things stand in Duran's way; "Sugar" Ray Leonard (Usher), the all American boxing poster boy, and Duran's intense temper and over-confidence.
I wasn't sure what to expect going in to Hands of Stone. I was dragged to the theater by my father, who grew up watching these actual fights, and he loved the film. So if you're a fan of the real life story, like he was, this film is perfect for you. And you know what? It actually isn't actually that bad if you're just looking to kill two hours before Summer is gone. This is a fine film with good performances and a hard to resist sense of fun and heart. It's also pretty short for a bio-pic, thanks to its fast and efficient editing. It definitely has some major issues, and it's not better than either of the two boxing films from 2015, but for a late August entry, it's lucky it has a fighting chance.
It's a very normal day when you get to say Robert De Niro delivered a wonderful performance, so it shouldn't shock anyone that Robert De Niro delivered a wonderful performance in Hands of Stone. Obviously, he's the stand out among the cast and just may be the sole reason for checking this film out. Edgar Ramirez was also very good, but I, from time to time, got annoyed by his character and felt he was hard to root for. I understand that's who Roberto Duran was and they do attempt a character arc, but it's the other characters that truly ground this film and give it it's emotional pull, especially Usher's character, "Sugar" Ray Leonard. Usher joins the list of wonderful rappers turned wonderful actors. He's just naturally likeable and even though via the context of the story he's the antagonist, I was sort of rooting for him. Also, special shout out to Ama De Armas, who portrays Duran's wife. She's essentially the same exact character as the one she portrayed in War Dogs, but she's good here as well. And she's the most beautiful woman on the planet and I was very happy during her love scene.
Where the film faults is in it's script. The overall story is actually pretty intriguing, but the script had some serious issues. There are some bad lines, like when Duran compares his penis to the titanic and his wife replies with "Let's sink it," but the real problem is how it's structured. The first act is non-linear, jumping from Duran's early life, to him in his early twenties, to twenty years back in the 1950's, but then that style gets completely abandoned. This causes issues as they obviously left crucial scenes on the cutting room floor. The script is just too damn stuffed to form a coherent movie, featuring various sub plots and a back drop of the hardships of Panama at the time which feels oh, so forced. The entire film is also narrated, which got on my nerves. I don't mind narration, I just prefer not to be bombarded with it. It's also worth mentioning a death scene that was so poorly done and cheap looking that I laughed out loud.
Overall, Hands of Stone finishes with a few bloody bruises and maybe a broken nose, but the performances and the intriguing true story allow it to finish on its feet. It's not great, and we have gotten much better boxing films, but for a late August bio-pic, you could do worse. If you're bored on a rainy day, I suggest giving this movie a shot.