While I’m not a huge fan of boxing, I have seen and liked more than a few boxing movies. Starting with Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me, to Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, to Will Smith as Ali, and to Robert De Niro‘s great performance as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull – I’ve been there.
The newest film (or bio) about a boxer is called Hands of Stone. The film stars Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran and co-stars Robert De Niro as the legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel. Usher Raymond plays Sugar Ray Leonard. Ruben Blades plays Duran’s manager Carlos Eleta.
Ellen Barkin plays Stephanie Arcel, Jon Turturro plays the mobster Frankie Carbo. And to round out the major players, Ana de Armas plays Duran’s wife Felicidad Iglesias Duran.
Also present are Howard Cosell, Don King played by Reg E. Cathey, and Ray Charles. Not in person but via actors representing them. Other figures from the world of boxing represented included Angelo Dundee, Gil Clancey, Ken Buchanan, Davey Moore, John Condon, and Bob Arum.
That’s quite a lengthy list of roles for this film. And therein lies the problem with Hands Of Stone. I think that by choosing the all-encompassing story of Duran who grew up in the rough and tumble slums of El Chorillo, a neighborhood of Panama City, we have too much to digest, there’s too many characters, and the story suffers for this approach. Not from bloat, mind you, the film runs only 111 minutes, but from its lack of focus.
Simply and additionally, Duran doesn’t come off as heroic, or for that matter even charismatic. When you talk about Ali, you always start with charismatic. And Rocky was the underdog hero, as was Graziano. De Niro who wowed us as the brooding and dramatic Jake LaMotta – was a guy that you could care about, as well as root for.
But we don’t get there with the fierce Edgar Ramirez as Duran. He got to a point where he was able to enjoy the fruits of boxing career. In effect, after defeating Sugar Ray Leonard by a unanimous decision in Montreal on June 20th, 1980 – he was on the top of the boxing world. Going into the fight, Duran’s record was 48-1 with 41 knockouts. The fight would be sold, hyped, and remembered as The Brawl in Montreal.
The film then moves to a quickly arranged, by Carlos Eleta, rematch with Leonard. It would be an 8 million dollar purse for Duran. But Roberto had partied and played too much. To fight Leonard again, Duran would have to lose about 35 pounds in just 3 months.
Arcel said it couldn’t be done, plus if the weight did come off, Duran would be seriously weakened. Arcel urged Eleta to cancel the fight. But Eleta had not only put Duran into a sweat box to make the weight, he had put himself in a different kind of box. Don King would sue for breach of contract if the fight didn’t go off.
So the fight went on, and if you were around at that time you know the outcome. Duran hadn’t the endurance to chase Leonard around the ring, nor had he the punching power to take Leonard off his feet and out. So in mid-fight – Duran quit.
No Mas was what was reported at the time, meaning No more, but the film takes great pains to report that Duran never uttered those words in the ring. Basically that’s the film.
I found other things that I didn’t care for as well, that’s being besides the overfilled story, and the lack of charisma by the actor playing Duran. While Ramirez was fine, Duran was an uneducated street kid from El Chorillo. He couldn’t read, and he was crude in many ways. He really couldn’t be labeled either heroic or charismatic. So to expect more from the actor was more wishful thinking than anything else.
The boxing action in the film was badly edited. We’d see arms in motion and then hear the thuds of the punches, but the camera was always panning out of the ring to pick up Arcel’s reactions and instructions. Or we left the venue to watch people watching the fight on TV screens. Or we would get a glimpse of the boxer’s wives reacting. In short the fight sequences lacked impact.
Yes, boxing is a brutal sport, and that’s why many people had no interest in boxing either then or now. While I don’t begrudge any of the boxers the money they earned in the ring, there’s something about the brutality that attracts many and makes so many others stay away from the sport.
Besides those factors, Ray Arcel was kind of shorted in the film. While he did train many, many boxing champions during his life, the key element about him was that he was basically forced out of boxing by The Mob. Arcel wanted to bring boxing to prime time television. But the Mob was against that, fearing that it would weaken their control of the industry, by taking boxing out of the New York Market, and away from Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately, while Arcel would later be proven right – the only Mob guy we saw was Turturro as Frankie Carbo. The Mob had made Arcel an offer he couldn’t refuse, either walk away from boxing as a career, or take the consequences. Likely resulting in Arcel’s immediate death from bullets entering his head.
So Arcel took the first option. While he did train Duran, he wasn’t paid a penny for doing so, nor did share in any of the purses for winning the match, or any of the ancillary fees from boxing being televised.
Maybe there is another film coming (in the future) that will give us more of Arcel and Duran. According to IMDB. there is another De Niro – Ramirez project in the works ( as yet untitled).
The film has politics, sex, brutality, and violence. Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, Hands of Stone is watchable and never boring. But my take is that it lacks both real excitement and heart. I’ll bring the film in at three-point two five, but will recommend it only to those who really like the boxing.
Check out the trailer: