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Hands Of Stone
As boxing makes its gradual and slow retreat into anonymity, one of the sad things lost in this transition is some of the figures through the sport's history. For the heavyweight champions like Muhammad Alis and Mike Tysons, scores of fighters in lighter weight classes provided some memorable fights and carved out an amazing history for themselves. Chief among them was Roberto Duran, who held titles in four different weight classes (lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight) and won 103 of 119 career fights, 70 by knockout. As fighters like Ali received their biopics, Duran finally got one of his own, titled after his legendary nickname.
Hands of Stone was written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, his first feature in more than a decade since 2005's Secuestro Express. Playing Duran over the course of a decade and change from 1971 to 1982 is Edgar Ramirez (Point Break), as we see Duran's relationships with his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas, War Dogs), his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro, Righteous Kill) and promoter Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades, Safe House). We also see the fights that made him infamous, specifically the two 1980 fights against Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond, Sin City), and the second where Duran uttered ‘no mas,' or ‘no more.'
Hands of Stone portrays Duran as a hero of sorts to the Panamanian people. Born into poverty in the Panama slums, he sees the Americans and their involvement with the Panama Canal and is part of the protests to it, which serves as a complication when the suggestion is made by Eleta for Duran to meet with Arcel and take him on as his trainer. Duran learns Arcel has some strange ways but eventually sees that they help Duran become successful and a World Champion. On the other side, Arcel, whose resume of Championship fighters he trained includes Jim Braddock, Ezzard Charles and Benny Leonard (among 21 over the course of his career), he isn't sure what to make of Duran initially, but the hesitation between the two eventually becomes a solid working relationship and friendship.
On the latter for a moment, De Niro's performance is one of the better ones I've seen from him recently. He leans on his past boxing experience for good reason but Arcel is a generally quiet, soft spoken man until the ring is introduced. He serves as a good complement to Ramirez in the movie. Duran doesn't see everyone getting rich around him, though he does have his moments of enjoying his money, but it would seem like he enjoyed being a man of his people a little more than being a celebrity, which goes along the lines of what my previous knowledge of him was.
However, Hands of Stone has a couple of notable flaws; on a micro level, the subplot surrounding Duran and Leonard went on longer than it had any right to and eventually wound up taking the focus away from the subject of the film. Duran served as an executive producer on the film but may not have cared about it other than the check he got, but there is a submarining of whatever storytelling is accomplished that is confusing. On a larger scale, we see Duran's whims but very little of a sense of humanity in them. If Roberto Duran is a man of the people then the connection to them isn't all that successful in the film, and the overall product is remarkably average.
For Hands of Stone to squander a story like the life of Roberto Duran is disappointing, but Duran himself has remained a mystery at times, with his reasons of quitting in the second Leonard fight changing depending on when and how he's asked. In a strange way this flawed storytelling is perfect for Duran in his own words, but for his career and accomplishments, he deserved better than what plays out on screen.The Blu-ray:
Hands of Stone arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen presentation that looks solid. The image doesn't have much consistently sharp image detail, but when you get to the fight sequences the overhead lighting on the fighters the white levels are natural in their heat. Skin tones are natural, but the exterior shots of Panama are where the film looks natural and vivid. Not fantastic, but good to go from Anchor Bay.The Sound:
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround for the film which includes more low-end fidelity that I expected, with the result being a pleasant surprise. The fight sequences include immersive crowd noise, with effective channel panning and directional effects. Duran's partying gets many of the same dynamic effects, along with the Panamanian riots. Dialogue is consistent throughout the film and the sonic experience is up to the task.Extras:
The big extra on the making of the film, entitled "A Boxing Legend, A Nation's Pride" (23:33), is surprisingly decent. The cast and crew share their thoughts on Duran's life and legacy, along with the requisite thoughts on working with one another. Ramirez recalls his approach to training for the role and lots of rehearsals of fights are shown. It includes interviews with Ramirez, De Niro and Usher and covers as many bases as possible. 8 deleted scenes (10:42) include a little more of Duran's temper, and 2 videos of a song for the film are the last extra, one by Usher, another by Blades.Final Thoughts:
Hands of Stone tackles one of boxing's greats with an apparent lack of complete understanding of who they are attempting to portray, with the exception of Ramirez. His performance, and De Niro's as his trainer, are modest and effective despite the flaws in the storytelling. Technically, the disc is solid and the making of look is fine. But as far as boxing movies go, should have been stopped by the referee during the middle rounds.