Hands of Stone
Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz
Opens August 26
Boxer Roberto Durán grew up poor in Panama and became a champion boxer, trained by the legendary Ray Arcel. Hands of Stone, his inevitable biopic, doesn’t, at its core, contain much more information than that sentence, but in movie-boxing terms it positions Durán as a sort of simultaneous Rocky and Apollo Creed: A scrappy underdog from humble beginnings and a cocky champion who doesn’t believe he can be defeated. But the movie’s Durán (Edgar Ramírez) lacks the charm of either character; it moves too fast to establish any.
This Durán becomes less charming, in fact, the more time the movie spends with him, accumulating new details of his jerkiness. He’s impulsive and brash; ok, fine, and Arcel (Robert De Niro) sees something in the kid. He meets his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas) via what could be described as street harassment gone unexpectedly well; a little sketchy, but it was a different time. He says nasty stuff about his opponent Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher), less adorable. Then he moves on to Leonard’s wife. Once Durán he hits the big time, his descent is laughably brisk, because he seems primed for it from very early on. Whatever complexities the real Durán held, writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz seems unsure how to show them outside of a standard boxing-movie narrative.
Maybe the subject would register more strongly as a hero (of sorts) if De Niro wasn’t front and center. As-is, De Niro gets the first center-frame composition, the first close-up, and a whole bunch of voiceover narration. Just going out on a limb here, but this probably isn’t De Niro’s ego run wild, but rather Harvey Weinstein’s: Hands of Stone has the feel of vintage Miramax-in-the-90s tinkering, right down to the casting of Usher as Leonard, throwing back to that circa-1999 time Weinstein was convinced he could make the singer a movie star. The heedless speed with which Hands of Stone races through its marks makes it entertaining enough (as does its unusual amount of sex for a boxing movie)—at least until the movie goes diffuse after a crucial fight at the hour mark. Characters scatter; Arcel’s daughter shows up for a subplot that never really materializes, at least in this cut, and Leonard gets one of just a few solo scenes. Throughout, there are at least three montages, edited with rhythm and humor, but still surface-level. Last year, Weinstein put a lot of chips on Jake Gyllenhaal going through the arrogant-boxer motions in Southpaw; it seems like maybe Harvey recognizes something in the process of stubborn, tooth-and-nail fighting.