Hands of Stone is about as standard of a boxing movie as you can get, but its also very well done, and deals with the consequences of fame and patriotism that other films rarely touch on. It’s a story that’s been seen countless times, but Edgar Ramirez’s charismatic lead performance carries the film through some meandering subplots and unnecessary distractions. While it lacks originality, Hands of Stone possesses a kinetic energy in its quickly edited cinematography, as well as a rawness and realism that sells the drama in a convincing manner.
Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) has fought his entire life, looking out for his family, defending his home of Panama, and boxing in minor tournaments. Approached by Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), the world’s most successful boxing trainer of all-time, Duran is offered a chance at the title shot. Fighting his way to the top, Duran’s life begins to fall apart around him as his family life becomes more strenuous and Panama’s political climate worsens. Left with nothing but his skills as a fighter, Duran uses Arcel’s guidance to put his abilities to the test.
Ramirez is instantly effective as Duran; his personality and ego makes for a compelling character arc, and creates a character that, while flawed, makes you want to cheer in his victories. In a great comeback role, De Niro gives some of his best work in years as Arcel, and while some of his characterization is muddled by unnecessary reveals, De Niro’s gravitas and emotion as an actor is a wonder to watch.
The film struggles to overcome some of the stereotypes of boxing movie cliches, and while it does attempt to be different in depicting Duran’s lifestyle, the character can occasionally come off as despicable, leading to some uneven development. It’s a film that crams in a lot of dates and events, and while it sometimes montages through some of the more interesting details, the boxing sequences themselves are heart stopping and utterly enthralling. It’s not an instant classic, but Hands of Stone is a very fun time with amazing boxing action and two towering performances. Grade: B