It’s rare to watch a film where you’re rooting against the main character the entire time. Normally, with any film, or any film that falls into the sports genre as “Hands of Stone” does, you’re cheering for the star individual or star team all the way to the closing credits. This is the case for notable sports movies such as “Remember the Titans” and “Rudy” (of which the leading actor Sean Astin made his way to the University of Maine campus this week), but not the case for this newest boxing flick.
“Hands of Stone” follows the life of Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez) who finds fame in the sport under the guidance of late world-renowned trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). Much of the movie depicts Durán’s difficult early childhood and later his preparation for an upcoming bout with then-current World Boxing Council welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV).
From the first time you meet Durán in the movie, you see that his attitude consists of pent-up anger and disgust for Americans, mostly those American soldiers that occupied the Panama Canal during the 1970s. This carries on throughout his life and eventually that anger contributed to cockiness when he defeated Leonard the first time. This is when you may realize just how much Durán was a dislikeable character. Never before has there really been a sports film where cheering against the main character was so prevalent.
What was especially perplexing was the sideline story involving the personal events of Ray Arcel. There were a few times when Arcel dealt with boxing promoter and Mafia soldier Frankie Carbo (John Turturro). In essence, this storyline seemed utterly pointless, and it was almost like director Jonathan Jakubowicz kept the scenes simply to fill time. In any case, Turturro’s presence in the film was meaningless.
To give credit where it’s due, it was great to see De Niro back where he excels. For the longest time it felt that every De Niro film was an ostentatious attempt at a comedy, and the fact that he starred in this film is pleasantly surprising. De Niro starred in his own boxing film “Raging Bull” back in 1980, a film that is considered the magnum opus of director Martin Scorsese. He knows what kind of dedication it takes to portray a good boxer, considering he gained 60 pounds to play the role of Jake LaMotta in that film. De Niro even won a couple impromptu middleweight bouts while preparing for his role. With this kind of experience, there’s no doubt that De Niro was the right choice for the role of Arcel.
Although this is not Ramírez’s first feature movie, he still has not made a lasting mark in cinema. He’s fitting for the role of Durán due to his likeness and hot-headed acting style, but he wasn’t able to rise above the formulaic script and misguided storyline. He will be sticking around, though, so moviegoers can be assured that they will see him again.
The general consensus is that “Hands of Stone” just didn’t live up to some of the great boxing films, like the aforementioned “Raging Bull,” the Rocky Balboa franchise, or even Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.” There may be better boxing films on the horizon, however. Miles Teller will star as Vinny Paz in the biopic “Bleed for This,” which will debut on Nov. 4.