“Hands of Stone”
For such a seemingly unpopular sport in America, boxing continues to see Hollywood releases year after year. It’s understandable, in a sense, as it plays to the underdog story that so many people love. The sheer number of films causes the stories to overlap and become clichéd with each subsequent release. Hands of Stone is not different from this formula and not really unique in any way.
At age 72, legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement to coach world-class Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramirez). Arcel becomes a mentor to the ferocious fighter, convincing him that winning ultimately comes down to strategy. After scoring knockout after knockout, Durán prepares for a bout against Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher), the undefeated lightweight champion. Five months later, the two titans meet for an infamous rematch that makes boxing history.
Another victim of poor editing, Hands of Stone is a completely jumbled mess with scenes that appear out of nowhere with little context. Certain aspects of Arcel and Durán’s lives are out of place and ultimately don’t benefit the story whatsoever. The decisions to include these scenes interrupt the narrative completely and are more eye-roll inducing rather than adding anything worthwhile to the characters.
Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat; De Niro phones this performance in, completely and whole-heartedly. The biggest surprise of the film is the likeability and charisma Usher has as Sugar Ray. It’s not revolutionary but it does the job. Beyond the poor performance from a great actor and a surprising one from a music star, Ramierz is actually decent with what he is given from the lackluster script. Durán is a sympathetic enough character to start, but he becomes incredibly unlikeable as the film progresses. Spouting horrendous insults and being generally obnoxious, Durán becomes hard to root for compared to the much more likeable Sugar Ray.
The direction from Jonathan Jakubowicz is dull, for lack of a better word. Much of the pacing and editing is off which affects the other decent aspects of the film. The fight scenes feature close-up shots galore that are rather off putting and jarring. Jakubowicz’s work with Durán’s character, however, is the weakest aspect and the lack of sympathy or sense of being an underdog makes the entire plot hard to invest in.
Overall, Hands of Stone is a boring, slow film. The lack of a likeable lead completely tears down anything that the film had going for it and, at least in my mind, makes you root for the supposed bad guy in Sugar Ray Leonard. The editing and selection of scenes is just an awful attempt in creating a cohesive story. The only thing to take away from Hands of Stone is to watch a much better boxing film, most any will do.
2 out of 5