A performance does not make a movie. We’ve seen it time and time again, incredible performances mired by mediocre filmmaking. This seems to be on trend with biopics, which allow performers to take on complex characters but sticks them in a by-the-books highlights reel of their life. Unfortunately, that’s the case here for Hands of Stone. Known as one of boxing’s greatest, Roberto Durán is brought to life by the uber-talented Edgar Ramirez but is stuck in a film that frequently loses focus and tries to cover too much territory all at once.
If you’re like me and your knowledge of sports history is tremendously limited, Roberto Durán’s rags to riches story from poor, illiterate boy in the streets of Panama to legendary and famous boxer is a relatively new one. Hence it’s a wonder why what on paper sounds like an incredible story ended up being so generic. For one, the story begins with Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), a formerly successful boxing coach narrating Durán’s story, which frankly is annoying. If this is Durán’s story, why can’t he narrate it? If you’re looking for an outsider’s perspective on the most interesting character in the entire movie, then you’re doing it wrong.
While Durán’s story from start to finish is often at the film’s center, there are a number of side plots, involving Arcel and his past with the mafia and an estranged daughter that feel out of place and, most of all, unnecessary. The same goes for Sugar Ray Leonard, one of Durán’s greatest opponents and played by R&B artist Usher, who gets some bonus screen time with a scene between him and his wife on how to they’re going to beat Durán in a rematch. These scenes seemed like wayward attempts to give audiences, especially American ones, something familiar, in addition to trying to mirror Durán’s personal struggles with the ongoing political tensions with the U.S. over the Panama Canal. It was all just so grossly needless, and as much as they tried to connect all these dots together, it made for incoherent biopic that didn’t do much in making me understand who Durán is over what he accomplished.
The one redeeming quality of Hands of Stone is Edgar Ramirez. Ramirez brings charm, swagger, intensity and at moments humorous lightness to Durán, giving us glimpses of a multifaceted sports hero when the movie allows it. If there’s anything that Hands of Stone proves to us effectively, it’s that Edgar Ramirez can lead a film, play opposite of any actor without a hitch, and his talent deserves a lot more than what he has been given so far. Team all that with his beauty, why there aren’t more people trying to make this guy Hollywood’s next leading man is a total mystery.
Hands of Stone is now playing in theaters.