Friday, September 2, 2016

Movie Review #481: "Hands of Stone" (2016)

Movie"Hands of Stone"
Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
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A look into the life of one-time world champion boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez).

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, "Hands of Stone" tells the story of Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, played here by Edgar Ramírez. The film focuses on several portions of Durán's life, beginning with a lot of backstory about how he grew up poor in Panama as a child, often having to steal fruit and food to help feed his family. From there, the movie largely focuses on his days training under legendary trainer Ray Arcel, played by Robert De Niro, and how Durán became a world champion boxer. During this time, we also get a look at his new life of luxury and his home life with his wife Felicidad, played by Ana de Armas, and the many children they have over the course of a few years. The film also explores Durán's outward hatred for America because of the conflict over the Panama Canal and because his estranged father was an American. This all fluctuates between flashbacks and present day exchanges.

Movies about boxers are often great sources of entertainment. They have built-in excitement and action when it comes to boxing matches, plus, it gives the audience a chance to cheer for the protagonist, something a lot of movies don't have already worked in by default. The trick is to get those who aren't already familiar with a specific boxer invested in them and their life. This is done by developing relatable aspects of their character and having dramatic elements thrown in for good, satisfying measure. In "Hands of Stone" (which is also more than likely in reality because this is a biopic), Roberto Durán is portrayed as selfish, short-tempered, trash-talking (even about an opponent's wife), and seemingly walks around with a chip on his shoulder. He grew up poor and had to struggle to get to where he is in life, earning his dollars and titles through hard work, tenacity, and an incredible jab. He doesn't take well to having money, a common problem amongst boxers, so he often goes hog wild with lavish parties complete with booze, friends, leeches, sometimes drugs, sometimes women, and it never seems like he can find the balance once he actually becomes champion.

We feel like director Jonathan Jakubowicz wants us to empathize with Durán's rags to riches story, but it just doesn't properly click when the protagonist is also a huge asshole. The biggest problem with "Hands of Stone" is it's overloaded with melodrama. The dramatic conflicts throughout the film are often so over the top and so forced, they come off as phony, even if the moments happen to be true to life. Even the big, memorable, famous fight, the second encounter between Sugar Ray Leonard, played by Usher Raymond, and Durán comes off as melodramatic. In this fight, Durán actually stops in the middle of it, quitting mid-fight and announcing his retirement right there in the ring. This is dramatic enough as it is, but then the director juxtaposes it with cutaways, flashbacks, and bad camerawork of the political conflict over the Panama canal, basically giving a string of reasons why Durán quit the fight outside of the fact he was out of shape and being out-boxed.

Not everything about "Hands of Stone" is a total letdown. The more we see of Edgar Ramírez, the more we begin to enjoy him as an actor (he has had a few missteps in his relatively short career). He does well with what he has to work with, but we can't help but wish he'd be put to use in a better film. It's nice to see Robert De Niro scraping himself out of whatever stupid mindset he fell into when he decided that "Dirty Grandpa" was a good career choice, and he is quite believable and committed to the role of Ray Arcel. The problem with this film is not the acting, but rather it's just severely lacking in some areas and winds up being rather mundane. This is coming from two people who grew up watching boxing with their parents, so we were ultimately left underwhelmed and disappointed.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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