3.5 stars. Rated R, for profanity, nudity, sexual content and strong sports violence
By Derrick Bang
Some sports champions, talent notwithstanding, make themselves very difficult to admire.
Ryan Lochte immediately comes to mind. And Dennis Rodman. And, sadly, more than a few others.
|Although Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez, right) would rather charge into the ring and|
bludgeon his opponent into submission, veteran trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro)
cautions patience, and emphasizes the need for strategy.
Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Hands of Stone profiles another such individual: Roberto Durán, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s all-time greatest boxers. As Jakubowicz’s script suggests, Durán’s skills in the ring couldn’t entirely offset an aggressive, unpleasantly confrontational personality that resulted from a chip on his shoulder the size of Pennsylvania.
Certainly he had cause, growing up in Panama in the 1950s and early ’60s, at a time when U.S./Panamanian tensions over ownership of the Canal Zone resulted in rioting, military intervention and nasty international squabbling. Abandoned by his father — an American marine who had an affair with a local girl — and essentially raised on the streets, Durán couldn’t help hating the Americans whom he perceived as thuggish invaders.
All of which makes his eventual alliance with legendary American trainer Ray Arcel even more fascinating.
Jakubowicz’s film is an engaging sports drama anchored by two strong starring performances. The narrative is fairly predictable — insofar as anything about Durán was predictable — and Jakubowicz’s handling is solid, if unremarkable. The fight choreography, however, is stunning. Paula Fairfield’s sound design is particularly effective; rarely have cinematic punches been staged so persuasively, or sounded so brutal.
On a much lighter note, we can’t help smiling over the serendipitous casting. Robert De Niro has come full circle: After winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of boxer Jake La Motta, in 1981’s Raging Bull, he’ll very likely garner an Oscar nod for this performance as Arcel.
Jakubowicz cleverly sets up a bit of parallel structure between Durán (Edgar Ramírez) and Arcel, since both men had to overcome dangerous challenges. Durán’s mere survival during childhood was a major accomplishment, along with the luck that propelled him into a talented neighborhood trainer’s hands.