Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) officially began boxing professionally at age sixteen, finally retiring at age fifty. Because of his hard-hitting style and notoriety of early knockouts, he earned the moniker "Manos de Piedra"
--- "Hands of Stone".
In the early 1970's, his manager at the time, Carlos Aleta (Ruleen Blades) insisted that Duran meet famous boxing trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). Aleta was convinced that Arcel could calm Duran down and teach him to become a boxing superstar.
Arcel had his own issues with the world of boxing after almost losing his life to the Mafia. He makes a promise to crime boss Frankie Carbo (John Turturro) to never make another dime from boxing, but seeing the enormous potential in Duran, Arcel agrees to train him for free. While his career is taking a meteoric rise, Duran sets his sights on a beautiful girl, Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas), who, as she puts it, is from a very different world than his. Not letting that deter him, Duran marries Felicidad and they have five children, four of whom are boys, all named Roberto.
But Duran has a goal --- to become the Welterweight Champion of the World, so on June 20, 1980 he defeats Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) in a 15-round match. Prior to the bout, Duran insults Sugar Ray's wife, Sharon (Janelle Davidson), and manages to unnerve Sugar Ray psychologically.
A rematch is set by Aleta, much to Duran's dismay, and on November 25, 1980 the two powerhouses meet again. Duran, out of shape mentally and physically, quits halfway through, stunning the world, and giving his title back to Sugar Ray. But Duran is not completely finished as a boxer, and three years later, on his 32nd birthday, he returns to the ring in Madison Square Garden to fight 24-year-old Davey Moore (Israel Isaac Duffus).
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, "Hands of Stone" boasts a 300 person crew and 15,000 extras, financed by a special fund and the entire nation of Panama. Duran is the illegitimate son of a U.S. marine and a local Panamanian girl. His national pride is legendary and he is not particularly fond of the United States.
"Hands of Stone" is an amazing story of how strength, determination and self pride can change the course of one's life. Duran always believed he would be a great boxer, and Arcel recognized his raw potential. Together these two men formed an unbelievable bond that changes both their lives.
The chemistry between Ramirez and De Niro is so real --- so believable. This is by far De Niro's best dramatic role in years. He is seamless in his portrayal of Arcel, the first boxing trainer to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. De Niro's demeanor is quietly effective as we watch Arcel corral an unruly Duran.
Ramirez is terrific. Duran had a bigger-than-life presence in Panama and the sport of boxing, and Ramirez captures that essence perfectly. Duran was not perfect, and Ramirez doesn't back away from his foibles and faults.
Rick Avery is responsible for the fight choreography which was filmed to be identical to the original fights. The real-life Sugar Ray helped train Usher, who could definitely have a second career as a lead actor. And de Armas is quite delectable as Duran's wife. She just starred in "War Dogs" opposite Miles Teller, and looks completely different.
Though I usually eschew boxing films, "Hands of Stone" is well worth seeing. You will not be disappointed.
Opinion: See It Now!
Roberto Duran, a world-class boxer, was known as the man with "hands of stone". The current movie about his life, appropriately entitled "Hands of Stone", is not a brutal boxing film in the manner of "Southpaw", for example. The fight scenes are primarily close-ups of the combatants, and generally brief, with almost no battered or bloodied faces.
The movie does provide a great sense of Duran, the man, and what drove him to such heights in the world of professional pugilism. His disdain for America and his strong Panamanian devotion ignited his passion and dedication to the "sweet science". Portrayed very capably by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, Duran fought in four different weight classes, but is most widely known as a welterweight and lightweight.
For many years, Duran's trainer was Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro, in his best performance in years), widely considered one of the savviest ever. It was Arcel who converted Duran the brawler into Duran the boxer. "Brains over brawn" was Arcel's mantra.
Although Duran remained a devastating hitter (of 119 fights, he won 103, 70 by knockout). Arcel taught him the value of strategy in the ring, and it proved most valuable when he beat Sugar Ray Leonard for the welterweight title in 1980 in the "Brawl in Montreal". Of course, no film about Duran would be complete without a full reenactment of the infamous "No Mas" fight that was the rematch.
Outside of the Latino community, Duran was not a popular figure. Sugar Ray, on the other hand, was America's darling, and his loss to Duran was a big surprise. Usher Raymond (yes that Usher) plays Leonard. He displays legitimate boxing moves with his toned body, plus the proper umbrage when Duran insults his wife at a weigh-in.
When an older Duran was later slated to fight the highly touted, 24-year-old Davey Moore, most boxing fans who didn't care for Duran's outside-the-ring demeanor were clamoring for him to be pummeled by Moore. But those people underestimated the sheer will of the man with "Manos de Piedra", who at age 32 still managed to stun the world of boxing.
If you are old enough to remember the classic battles between Duran and Leonard, "Hands of Stone" is a respectable homage to that time. If these two boxing legends have little historic meaning for you, the film is still an engrossing look at two athletes, and one legendary trainer, whose legacies live on.
Opinion: See It Now!