Hot Take: Roberto Duran’s story is an amazing one. Too bad Hands of Stone is only mediocre thanks to it’s made-for-cable TV-like quality and overreaching story that tries to do too much.
Earlier this year, the first season of American Crime Story recreated the O.J. Simpson trial. It was wonderfully cast and the Simpson case was as compelling as TV got the first time around so it was no surprise it made for an interesting retelling. As compelling as American Crime Story was, there was something remarkably “made for television” about it. That makes sense since it was a cable TV series. The same can be said for Hands of Stone which is wonderfully cast and the story of Roberto Duran is as compelling a boxing story as you’ll find. However, it felt remarkably “made for television” but somehow made it to your local cinema.
This isn’t the worst criticism in the world. HBO has a great track record of producing impeccable movies ripped from compelling well-known stories. On the other hand, Lifetime is trying their hand at recreating some less interesting stories into “unauthorized” tell-alls that leave something to be desired. Either way, these work for their medium. Hands of Stone would have been a very good HBO movie. Unfortunately, we ask a little more from the movies we pay $10-15 to see rather than the movies HBO gives us at $10-15/month. Hands of Stone never quite gets there.
One of the biggest challenges has with Hands of Stone is what Roberto Duran story to tell. In the end, it becomes one of its biggest problems as it tries to tell them all. The movie feels like an overloaded sandwich as you try to eat it, it becomes a sloppy mess on your plate. The Duran story told in Hands of Stone goes everywhere which often prevents it from getting anywhere. It even does its best to tell the story of his trainer, Ray Arcel, who could probably have been (and at times is) the focal point of the film.
What keeps you watching, though, are some excellent performances from Edgar Ramirez (as Duran), Robert De Niro (as Arcel) and Ana de Armas (as Duran’s wife, Felicidad). These excellent performances are bookended by cartoonish impersonations of Sugar Ray Leonard and Don King by Usher Raymond and Reg E. Cathey which, again, bring back that “made for television” feel. It’s more distracting than annoying as Raymond’s acting is almost laughable and nowhere near as charismatic as Leonard’s real life persona. Cathey’s job is impossible. Making King not appear to be a cartoon might be a task no one could pull off but it surely doesn’t help the film.
The boxing scenes are good but not great. There’s an emphasis on the flashing bulbs at ringside with very purposeful recreations of some famous Duran in-ring pictures. It adds to the authenticity of the re-telling but it detracts from the actual boxing and comes nowhere near the scenes of last year’s Creed or even Southpaw which both put boxing on display in amazing fashion. Most of the in-ring action is good, though, and some of the better scenes in the film unfold inside the squared circle.
Hands of Stone ends up being too conventional to be worthy of anything but being called adequate in its retelling of the Duran saga. It’s a movie better suited for the small screen and unlikely to live up to the healthy $20 million budget it needed to make it to the big screen. If you end up seeing Hands of Stone, you won’t say, “No mas!” but you might wonder why you didn’t wait for it to leave the cinema and watch it at home.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Ramirez & De Niro
As necessary between a fighter and his corner man, there needs to be chemistry. The pair portraying Duran and Arcel definitely have it throughout the film and the relationship the pair develop is believable because of the chemistry the two develop.
Filmed in Panama, the country plays a big role in Duran’s life and in the movie. The scenes shot there give the film insight into Duran’s struggles growing up and show the importance of his success to his country.
- Ana de Armas
While de Armas was good but her character was one dimensional in War Dogs, she’s given a little more depth in Hands of Stone. She’s showing some great potential and with roles like these should see some bigger opportunities coming her way in the near future.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Good Boxing… Not Great Boxing
The boxing scenes in any boxing movies are usually the pay off. In Hands of Stone, they didn’t feel as magnificent as other more recent offerings and definitely nothing close to some of the classic boxing films. Even in the most complex, emotional boxing films, the in-ring scenes felt like they had higher stakes than the rest of the film but that wasn’t the case in Hands of Stone.
I’m really not sure who the Sugar Ray Leonard Usher was portraying was but it wasn’t the Leonard I’m familiar with.