Hands of Stone (2016), written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, is a biographical sports film about the prestigious Panama boxing career of Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez).
A strong effort from the acting cast leaves the audience feeling a little empty though, like they should have gotten more out of the plot.
The film follows him from when he was a young boy growing up with America’s military residing in Panama City. Durán is a raging fighter and the audience is exposed to the development of his wild character and the personal tribulations that come with it.
Renowned boxing trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement to train Durán after watching him win a fight in New York at Madison Square Garden. He acts as the audience’s segue into the life of Duran. Duran knocked out his opponent in 66 seconds, and Arcel is hooked, thus starting the two’s relationship.
Their first meeting isn’t exactly productive. Arcel is from America, who Duran resents. In fact, Duran is more concerned about which ice cream flavor he wants to eat out of a newly bought collection. Arcel walks out and the two meetup later.
The film flashes back to the days of Duran’s childhood. He was a scrappy kid who would steal mangos off trees to help feed his friends and family. He had no father and his single mother was poor trying to support her kids. There’s a gentleness in Duran, but he also shows signs of trouble and leading a life of poverty.
Duran asks a local small gym trainer to teach him how to box. The man says no, but agrees after seeing Duran hustle kids in some street boxing.
A few army men come take Duran away and the local boxing trainer bails him out of a cell on the condition he doesn’t steal or fight outside the ring. Duran agrees and his boxing life begins, but more importantly, he becomes a natural.
Time flashes back to the present and Arcel is training Duran in Panama City. They become a duo and gain respect for each other by learning little lessons from them.
It’s inevitable for a boxing film to give off vibes from the beloved Rocky series, but Hands of Stone doesn’t amount to having quite the same heart. Roberto Duran is a fighter who is fun to watch and learn about, given the career he had. But the film struggles to incorporate and blend his personal issues into the mix.
Duran leads a cliche rise and fall to fame. He loses his way and gets caught up in the luxurious life of money and partying. Boxing is ultimately where his roots are, though. It never lets him get away too far and we happily see him stay.
Jakubowicz’s directing style has its shining moments. His quick moving camera angles add a rhythm to how the film is viewed, but he also gets a little carried away and it becomes choppy. A similar downfall happens with the plot with how rushed the final half hour was. Hands of Stone does a good job at trying to capture Duran’s life, yet the film leaves the audience hanging by the abruptness of its end.