‘I Don’t Need to be a Champion. I Need to Fight’: Our Review of 2016’s Hands of Stone (Spoilers Ahead)

There’s a case to be made, one that cuts both ways, for how movies should deal with matters of message and their delivery: you could use metaphor and imagery to show or illustrate the point-in-waiting without explicitly telling the audience or you could rely on both showing and telling the point-to-be-made with a payoff or realisation that makes a dual track worth the inconsistent subtlety.

In the case of director Jonathan Jakubowicz’ 2016 feature film/Roberto Durán biopic, Hands of Stone, the latter culminates from a dual track between the titular boxer’s rise and the then-running dispute between Panama and the United States over ownership of the Panama Canal.

"Hands Of Stone" U.S. Premiere - Arrivals
(from left to right) Stars Usher Raymond IV and Ana de Armas, director Jonathan Jakubowicz and stars Edgar Ramirez and Pedro Perez attend the Hands Of Stone U.S. premiere at the SVA Theater in New York City (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Photo and Caption via JustJared.com)

That being said, and whilst the fury of Edgar Ramírez’s Roberto Durán is clearly told and shown as being born of American involvement in Panama, much less directly at first anyways the Panama Canal, the film progresses up to Durán’s bout with Davey Moore without any layman-esque indication that that’s where the film’s plot is going. That being said, director Jakubowicz keeps the focus on how Durán’s concern for Panama became his overriding and somewhat burdening concern. 

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Director and screenwriter Jonathan Jakubowicz (Globo

The film’s plot, as subjectively interpreted below, does echo Roberto Durán’s escape from material poverty throughout the film, especially the depicted motivational variety as seen in the film’s last thirty minutes or so. That forms the plot’s through-line and the number of themes around it – American control of the Panama Canal, the beauty of the craft over commercial gain and the proliferation of television  – are spoken of and alluded to in varying degrees throughout the film.

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(from left to right) Stars Usher Raymond IV, Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez at a Cannes Film Festival event for 2016’s Hands of Stone (Cyril Moreau/Olivier Borde/Bestimage Photo and Caption via Allocine.fr)

The cast, consistently dominated, for want of more specific phraseology, by the likes of Usher’s Sugar Ray Leonard, Robert De Niro’s Ray Arcel and Edgar Ramírez’ Roberto Durán are the sort that, much like Guy Pearce’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dominic West’s Ernest Hemingway, would warrant a film of their own, if out of sheer curiosity alone. While Usher’s role is used in a supporting-esque way, Robert De Niro’s Ray Arcel’s familial subplot and intermittent voiceover make it unclear as to whether this is actually his movie.

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(from left to right) Stars Michael Ealy, Rosario Dawson and composer Angelo Milli pictured at an event for 2004’s Seven Pounds (Zimbio.com Photo and Caption)

Barring the out-of-resolution image above, composer Angelo Milli’s score is more dramatic cello-driven than sports action-oriented. That being said, the soundtrack, courtesy in large part to Rubén Blades, is what you’ll notice for its distinctively ethnic flavour alone.

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Director of Photography, Miguel Ioann Littin Menz (Altfg.com Photo and Caption)

There’s a moment in this film when Ana de Armas’ Felicidad, away from her parents, watches a Roberto Durán bout on television; picking up from that and the television-proliferation thread in the screenplay commentary, cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz’s photography is spot-on in making the fights seem like a televised affair and the Panamanian landscape seem, for lack of better vocabulary, street-y. 

With more simplicity than either Hands of Stone or really any film warrant, Hands of Stone is a film that speaks of and shows the hunger necessary for any pursuit, as seen through the lens of boxing. That alone, qualms over sub-plotting aside, make it worth watching if introduction or reintroduction to the human experience stories are your thing.

(While the opinions and observations cited above are the author’s own, the following sources were used to acquire facts for the article above: BleacherReport.com,   HollywoodReporter.com, HowTheyPlay.com, HistoryVsHollywood.com, IMDb.com, LRMOnline.com, ScreenDaily.com, TheGuardian.com, TheWrap.com, Uproxx.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Breakdown:

Plot: a young Robert Duran seeks boxing as a means to escape the poverty of his life.

Prologue: Arcel attends the bout between Duràn and Huertas in Madison Square Garden; the former wins but refuses to let Arcel train him.

Act 1: a young Duràn persuades Plomo to train him in boxing; the latter later bails him from jail and agrees to do so.

Act 2: Duràn decides to let Eleta sponsor him and Plomo for a shot at world championship glory; they wind up in Madison Square Garden fighting Huertas.

Act 3: Duràn later agrees to having Arcel train him; they return to Panama where Duràn meets Felicidad again.

Act 4: Duràn beats Ken Buchanan to become the lightweight champion of the world; his winning streak continues from then until 1977.

Act 5: Duràn chooses to provoke Sugar Ray Leonard t0 a bout of boxing; Duràn later wins the match.

Act 6: Duràn, bound to  the deal that Eleta secretly made with Don King, reluctantly agrees to fight Leonard again.

Act 7: Duràn opts out of the fight with Leonard mid-bout; he chooses to return to Panama in the aftermath.

Act 8: Duràn agrees to Arcel’s advice to let Plomo train the former for his return to boxing; he opts back into fighting from jails back on up.

Act 9: Duràn fights Davie Moore in his return bout; Duràn goes on to win the match.

Epilogue: a series of remembrances about the characters shown in Hands of Stone.

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