“Hands of Stone” is a Schlocky Boxing Film with Little New to Say

Starting with a promising shot of Robert De Niro ring side, all hopes for viewers of Hands of Stone to be given a unique boxing film experience are soon dashed as the trajectory of the picture follows well tread paths, and does so with little passion or aplomb.

The bio-pic follows the rise and fall and rise again of Panamanian fighter Roberto Duran, played by Edgar Ramirez, and the coach, Ray Arcel (De Niro) who trains him. The story is given the nickname of Duran and is based on his true story. He was a boxer who overcame poverty and the political turmoil of his nation. He was the only man to defeat Sugar Ray Leonard, and become the lightweight champion of the world. Insert more details of his hard-knocks upbringing, his instant attraction to a girl on the street who of course becomes his wife, trouble with adjusting to the excess of success, and a missing father segment, and you have Hands of Stone.

The film has a nice look. Accurate sets, lush scenes in Panama and great costumes. Unfortunately the look of the film is matched with bland performances and an uninspired script. De Niro’s performance is tired. He looks frail and bored. He doesn’t possess the character. It feel like he’s reading cue cards with his lines on them. Edgar Ramirez embodies Duran, but makes obvious acting choices which often become cliché. The size of his performance is too big, better suited for theater than film. The two stand outs are Ellen Barkin as Ray’s wife Stephanie and Usher as Sugar Ray Leonard.


(Usher as Sugar Ray Leonard)

Barkin is a voice of reason, compassion and spunk and gives the “wife” role mustard where other actresses would have missed the mark and played it safe. Usher is a sheer delight as Sugar Ray Leonard. He has captured Leonard’s charm and charisma and has an ease in his performance, including the boxing scenes, which make the scenes with him a welcome break from the tedious plotting of the rest of the film.

Bogged down with a bit of political information about the Panamanian unrest, but not enough to make it a proper storyline, viewers feel every one of the 105 minutes. A successful biopic has to bring out unknown elements of a story and/or show us a known history in a new way. Hands of Stone does neither of these things.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Starring: Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Ellen Barkin, Usher
Runtime: 105 minutes
Release Date: August 26, 2016
MPAA rating: R


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