One of the greatest boxers to put on a pair of gloves was Panamanian welterweight Roberto Duran, a man who became WBC champion only to have everything collapse around him when he famously stopped a rematch vs. Sugar Ray Leonard in mid match with his infamous “No mas” statement.
Duran was also trained by legendary trainer Ray Arcel, another great boxer until a mob hit that went astray cost him his boxing career.
Two extremely fascinating real life characters… unfortunately, this movie does not work well filling in the story of either. In fact, the film felt more like a series of unconnected scenes instead of a tightly told narrative.
Robert DeNiro played Ray Arcel and Edgar Ramirez played Roberto Duran. Both men do a reasonable job with what this film gives them to do. With DeNiro’s background in boxing movies, I immediately buy him as an old-time, knowledgeable trainer. Ramirez commits completely to the arrogant and brash Duran, whose excesses threatened to derail his career.
Duran was not a very likeable character here though. I found myself rooting for Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) in both of the fights. I found little redeeming about Duran, which, as I have said many times, really makes it hard for me to cheer for a protagonist. There had to be more of a balance between the unlikable aspect of Roberto Duran and what we saw in this film.
But the biggest issue of Hands of Stone was the feeling that so many scenes were disjointed. We would get certain scenes that really had nothing to do with the story that was being told that it was jarring at times. There was one sex scene involving Sugar Ray Leonard and his wife that sole purpose was to show off Usher’s ass, I think.
There was also way too much being shoved into this film that a lot of the plot lines only received a tertiary glance. Good example was the story involving the New York mob, led by Frankie Carbo (John Turturro) and Ray Arcel. Every time Turturro came on screen, I was interested (that may be because I just got done watching Turturro in the wonderful HBO series The Night Of). I would have loved more of that plot instead of the issues over the Panama Canal.
That whole political aspect was weird. I supposed Duran cared about it, but it did not seem to fit with the story. There were also several flashbacks to Duran as a child steal mangoes for everyone that just felt tacked on and did nothing for the overall plot.
The boxing scenes themselves were adequate, but they could not compare to the amazing scenes from last year’s Creed. I never really felt like I was in that ring with these boxers and that could have helped the film.
I am not sure how many times that I was watching Hands of Stone and I wondered why a certain scene was included here or why they were showing me things. The film was in desperate need for more of a tight edit than it received. DeNiro was solid, but Hands of Stone needed to say no mas much earlier.