Review: "Hands of Stone" is stuck in concrete

An unremarkable release date and unremarkable shots



Hands of Stone
is a boxing movie with a costarring performance by Robert De Niro that's being released nationally in late August. Are your internal consumer alarms going off? They should be, because if the movie was a strong enough action film to compete during the lucrative summer movie season, it would have been released in May, June or July. If it was a powerful enough drama to compete during the prestigious fall movie season, it wouldn't be released for at least another month or two.

By releasing the movie nationally in late August, the studio is conceding that they have low expectations for their film. If they're lucky, they'll rack up some dollars this weekend. After that their flick will likely fade fast, as audiences traditionally spend Labor Day weekend catching up on big films they'd intended to see and small/unusual films (Hell or High Water, Don't Think Twice, Kubo and the Two Strings) they've heard good things about.

Hands of Stone tells the story of the celebrated fighter, Roberto Duran, often referred to as the greatest lightweight boxer in history. Written and directed by the Venezuelan-born Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film jumps around as it lays out the ascent of the Panamanian Duran (Edgar Ramirez). As a boy, Duran is fatherless, hungry, and ready to fight. He resents the Americans, in large part because they occupy a certain canal in his country.

The cocky kid becomes a boxing sensation, but he lacks discipline. After some foot dragging, enter coach Ray Arcel (De Niro). Ruben Blades appears as Duran's business manager (he's shady, because all business managers in movies are shady). John Turturro shows up periodically to remind us of the Mob's interest in the sport. Ana de Armas plays Duran's eventual wife, who spends most of her screen time being outraged and/or giving birth. Eventually Usher enters the film as the charismatic Sugar Ray Leonard, making the proceedings considerably more interesting.

So what is it about Hands of Stone that got the production dumped in late August? The cast is clearly talented, but Usher is the only actor given anything particularly interesting to do. Edgar Ramirez struggles to make Duran more than just a macho thug, but the screenplay doesn't give him much more than that. I was interested to see the successful Duran struggling to keep his weight down (a boxer with body issues – intriguing!), but the film drops the subject moments after it is introduced.

I can get cozy with clichés, both in character and plot points, but the movie is too damned choppy to allow the viewer to do anything more than just watch. You know those catch-up specials TV dramas do at the beginning of a new season, where they lay out the story from the previous year? Hands of Stone plays like one of those.

But the film's biggest problem is its boxing scenes. The Fighter used hand held cameras to make their fight scenes remarkably close and intense. Creed used long, uninterrupted shots that made the fights easy to track visually and more emotionally immediate. Hands of Stone cheats, using quick cuts of aggressive moves, gloves lashing out, and reaction shots. There's the impression of a lot going on, but the fake boxing is cobbled together in the editing room, and where's the fun in that?

So there you go. Hands of Stone has feet in concrete.


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