Thursday, August 25, 2016


By José Alberto Hermosillo
From the streets of Panama to immortality, the life of the legendary boxer Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran is now a biopic of epic proportions.
Right from the beginning, the film dives into the world of boxing with intensity. 

Inside the Madison Square Garden in New York, in a 66 seconds fight, Roberto Duran, played by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (“Libertador,” “Carlos,” “Joy”), knocks out his opponent.
Robert de Niro plays the famous trainer, Ray Arcel, who narrates with amusement, his first encounter with Duran. 

Arcel could never forget Duran’s punching power.

Inside the locker room, Ruben Blades (“The Maldonado Miracle” and “The Milagro Beanfield War”) play Duran’s ambitious manager, Carlos Eleta.

Carlos pushes the connection between the boxer and the controversial American trainer. Not before the boxer’s reward, lots of ice cream Duran likes to have after every fight just to feel good about himself.
To learn the ropes and to become a world champion, Duran must soften his anti-American rhetoric and start working with his new American trainer. He has to begin with the basics. 

They had to move to train to Panama because Arcel was banned from preparing anyone in the U.S.A.

If Duran wants to succeed, he must master his technique with the best trainer in the world. 

“Boxing is a mental score, prison is a mental state.”

The difference between the Mexican and Panamanian boxers is that Panamanians are trained with salsa music, which facilitated Duran's moves and shaped his style.

For the people of Panama, every Duran’s fight against an American opponent was turned into a political clash. The differences between those two countries are perfectly depicted in the film.

Duran represented hope for his people. 

The same people who were hurt by the American colonialism, which saw in every Duran’s championship, an opportunity to gain strength and endurance.
Roberto Duran, along with Mohamed Ali, Mike Tyson, and Julio Cesar Chavez, they are considered some of the greatest boxers in history.

Seven years took for director Jonathan Jakubowicz (“Secuestro Express”) to see his dream on the big screen. 

The Venezuelan filmmaker wanted to tell a story of a Latino hero but had to wait for all the elements to fall into place.
Director Jonathan Jakubowicz, photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Copyrights @ Festival in LA 2016
Being an outsider, the director was able to show the political turmoil and the conflict with the U.S.A. over the ownership of the Panama Canal with objectivity.

Filmmakers shot every fight with different lenses to recreate the right atmosphere of every specific time-period, to make the film much more authentic. 

In “Hands of Stone,” the actors nailed their characters to perfection.
Edgar Ramirez playing Duran, is remarkable.  He trained for nine months before getting into character and be able to start the physical transformation that will allow him to get closer to what this real-world champion was.
This is Robert De Niro’s best performance in years.

Usher Raymond IV (“The Faculty,” “In the Mix,” “Light It Up”) is impressive, natural and charismatic.  He portrayed the tremendous American champion Sugar Ray Leonard very realistically. 
Usher made Sugar more human.
The hyper-realism of the film kills the symbolism as we never get to know where the nickname “Hands of Stone” came from. 

In “Hands of Stone,” the transitions flow nicely from the drama of the fights to the poverty of its people and parallels with the social and political conflict.  Then it goes back to the humanity of the charismatic Latino hero, Duran. 
The famous “No Más Fight” happened with Ray Leonard on November 25, 1980, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

The extraordinary performances make up for the unbalanced and poorly structured script. A negative element that takes away much of the strength of the champion's journey.

De Niro's narration overwhelms the film, as we see too much of his character. It appears like two compelling storylines are competing against each other. For example, we did not need to know anything about Arcel’s unnatural junkie daughter, because that does not add anything to Duran’s story.

“Hands of Stone” is not a character-driven story; it is more a cast ensemble plot, with other equally essential characters besides the champion.

In 2013, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” depicts two compelling stories: The one that chronicles the life the Butler in and out the White House, and the second is about his son, an anarchist member of the “Freedom Riders” fighting for the Civil Rights in America. The title is not “The Butler & Son.” In Duran’s movie, the title is not “Hand of Stone & Ray Arcel.”
“Hands of Stone” is entertaining, likable, and excites the viewer, but the delivery is confusing, and it is not convincing.

The importance of this Duran’s movie is to bring a real Latino hero to life, something that seems almost impossible due to the lack of positive Latino images in Hollywood.

“Hands of Stone” is an inspiring movie about the life of one of the greatest boxers in history, his journey, and his legacy to the Panamanian people and to the World. It is worth viewing.

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