Never say “no mas”.
At age 72, after a few brushes with death and the notorious mafia, legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement to coach world-class Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez). It’s a job that many other trainers would take, let alone, come out of a retirement for, but it’s one that Arcel feels as if he has to do, if only to teach Duran a thing or two about manners and living life like a peaceful, everyday citizen in the United States of America. After all, growing up, Duran had to constantly fight his way through childhood and to ensure that no one ever brought him down as a person; now that he’s older, muscular and more than capable of beating the hell out of whoever steps in his way, he’s definitely not stepped down. But now that Duran wants to face-off against the one and only champ, Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond), he’s more than ready to settle down, listen to his trainer and win the title that he feels he has earned after all of the years and hard-work that he has put in.
With the troubled production, constant delays on its release-date, and late-August release, you’d honestly expect Hands of Stone to be an utter piece of crap that no one wanted to see. Thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way; it’s the kind of movie that you can tell had a clear agenda on its mind while being made, but for one reason or another, so many backstage politics got involved that after one cut too many, the movie lost its train of thought. It’s the perfect case of a good movie, unfortunately, being tarnished and ruin by the sole fact that it had one too many people’s wallets involved, so therefore, it had to suffer the consequences of having a whole lot in it, but essentially, not being about a single thing.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, just a very messy, unclear and unfocused one.
The one thing that it does get right, thankfully, is the actual boxing itself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz keeps Hands of Stone from ever getting boring, moving at a quick, fast and efficient pace that hardly ever lets up, even when it is featuring a bunch of people, sitting in a room, and talking about Jimmy Carter the Panamanian Canal. But where the movie really moves, is in its boxing.
Sure, the boxing isn’t as realistic as say, a real fight that you’d check out on PPV (that’s still a thing, right?), but it doesn’t matter – when it’s on, you pay attention and you have some fun. You feel every punch, hold, broken bone, sweat, blood-drip, and everything else that goes hand-in-hand with boxing, so much so that after awhile, you’d sort of just wish the whole movie stayed in the ring and never even bothered to go outside of it.
Because yes, unfortunately, when it does go outside of the ring, it gets pretty bad.
For one, Hands of Stone is, like I said, a messy movie. It has a lot to talk about race, family, power, the government, sports, and so on and so forth, but at the same time, doesn’t really have much of anything to say about them in the slightest. Take, for instance, De Niro’s Arcel, a character who is probably deserving of his own movie, but here, is saddled with playing second-in-command and has a very brief, very random bit where he’s trying to settle a dispute with his long, lost and estranged daughter that literally none of us have ever heard about. It seems like the movie itself knew this, so rather than having her show back up and make some sort of sense to the whole movie, she’s literally never heard from again.
Also, while I’m at it, why does the movie seem to bring up relations between U.S. and the Dominican Republic, yet, at the same time, never really have much of anything to say about them? And also, why are we learning so much about Durán’s upbringing and hotshot attitude, yet, at the same time, never actually knowing anything more about him besides that? The movie seems to present a whole bunch of stuff, but keep it all at such a surface-level, that after awhile, you don’t even know what it is.
Is it a boxing movie? Or, is it an unfinished cut of one?
Either way, the movie does thankfully stay entertaining all throughout, which mostly has to do with the fact that the pace is quick and the cast is quite good. As stated before, De Niro is good as Arcel, who probably deserves his own movie, just like Edgar Ramirez’s Durán does, as well. In fact, Ramirez is so good here, that he makes it very clear that possibly, some time down the road, he could give it another go, under a new writer, director, and studio, because there’s truly something here, to this person and this person’s tale that makes me want to see more of him and how he goes about his day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, we do get to see some of that here, but it’s in a movie that doesn’t seem to care, or know what to do with any of that rich material.
Consensus: With so much going on, Hands of Stone can’t help but feel and seem like a mess, but an entertaining one because of its fast-pace and good cast, which both deserve way better than what they’re given.
5.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire
Good review. I missed this one in theaters and (judging by your review) I’m partially glad that I did.