Anyone who was born after the Tyson era probably thinks Floyd Mayweather is the greatest boxer of all time *insert laughter here*. For those who actually know boxing history, the list of prolific boxers is a mighty one. Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, the list goes on and on. One name you can’t leave off the list of Roberto Durán, considered by many historians to be the greatest lightweight boxer of all time.
Durán had an amazing career winning 72 of his first 73 fights. Born and Raised on the streets of Panama, he was a true rag to riches story that inspired the will of an entire country. The story of Roberto Durán was told earlier this year in a film called Hands of Stone. The film premiered at Cannes back in May and was brought by The Weinstein Company for wide release. Unfortunately, this film will go down in the 2016 bin of wasted potential.
Hands of Stone begins in the early 80s. A young Roberto Durán played by Edgar Ramirez, is the new hot boxer fighting in the legendary venue of Madison Square Garden. Durán’s manager seeks the help of World Champion trainer Ray Arcel played by Robert DiNero, in order to make him a World Champion in his own right. Arcel was forced to retire due to mob pressure but agrees to train Roberto for free. However, he quickly realizes he has a huge challenge ahead of him. Durán grew up poor in Panama during the US-Panama conflict over ownership of the country. Durán is very arrogant and grew up hating America because of the military conflict in his country. He took dangerous risks to provide food for his family and lived in extreme poverty. Roberto begins to train in the world of boxing on the streets and builds himself to be a local dominant power before making his debut stateside in the US.
It is hard to feel for Durán as a person in this film. To say he is hard headed is probably being generous. While his trust issues are understandable given his upbringing, the length he goes to be a douchebag disconnects the viewer from any sympathy for his character. Even after years of training, experience, and progression, he hasn’t learned a thing about how to conduct himself with others. He still acts like the same angry child in his mid-30s that he was at the beginning of the film. This makes Roberto hard to root for the bad guy or sympathize with a broken hero. Especially when the film presents Sugar Ray Leonard played by Usher Raymond, as the antagonist to Durán when naturally it feels like it should be the other way around. On a side note, Edgar Ramirez is too damn old to play anyone in his early 20s. The choice not to cast another actor around the same age is a glaring one because when Ramirez is trying to seduce his future wife who looks like she’s still in high school while he looks like he hasn’t seen a high school in 25 years; it’s very difficult not to be taken out of the movie.
The film goes over the controversial ending of the 1980 super fight rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. For those who don’t know the story. After beating Leonard for the WBC Welterweight title, Durán’s manager goes into business for himself and signs him up for a rematch on short notice. Given the short notice of the fight, Durán is overweight and undertrained for the rematch. During the second fight, Leonard is simply faster and more focused than Durán who can’t handle the fact that he is about to lose the fight and the title. This leads to the career-defining “No Mas” call where Durán quits fighting in the middle of the 8th round and loses not only his title but the respect of his home country. This is by far the juiciest part of the film and I would encourage people especially those who love the sport to rewatch the real fight itself.
Hands of Stone has a good story to tell but does it in a very predictable and melodramatic way. The fall of Roberto Durán is portrayed in such a ‘Hollywood’ way, you have to roll your eyes at the desperate attempt for emotional dialogue. The film goes through so many plot points in rapid session, it fails to tell the important details of Durán’s life that make for a better story. The shaky cam during the fight scenes makes it difficult to follow the action in the ring and they don’t seem greatly choreographed, to begin with. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by films like Creed that came out just last year and that film wasn’t even about a real person. Hands of Stone feels like it doesn’t have enough of a coherent message to portray exactly what it wants to be as a film. The acting is fine, the visuals of 70s Panama and 80s New York City is great. Hell, you even get a decent Don King impersonation but it is poor writing and a poor narrative that weighs down the film.
Hands of Stone is a missed opportunity to cover the life of one of boxing’s most influential figures and it’s a damn shame.