HANDS OF STONE – Review by Susan Granger

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Evoking memories of “Raging Bull” (1980), Robert De Niro returns to the boxing ring again – this time as Ray Arcel, the legendary trainer who coached welterweight boxer Roberto Duran in the 1970s.As an impoverished 16 year-old from Panama, Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) made his professional debut in 1968 and retired in 2002 at the age of 50. But his story begins at Madison Square Garden in 1971, when Arcel first saw Duran fight. Read on…

“Ring sense is an art,” Arcel says. “A gift from God that flows out of a fighter like a painting that flows out of an artist.”

Obviously, Arcel felt that Doran was bestowed with that blessing and had great potential, if he could master the strategy. His nickname was Manos de Piedra (“Hands of Stone’).

Problem is: Duran was indulgent, undisciplined and self-defeating.

In June, 1980, Duran defeated cocky Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) to claim the WBC welterweight title. In their subsequent November rematch, he stunned the boxing world during the eighth round by returning to his corner and forfeiting, allegedly saying the words “no mas” (no more).

Duran’s bizarre behavior is then explained by his supposed PTSD as a result of seeing American flags in the crowd. His father was a U.S. soldier who abandoned him as a child in Panama City.

Venezuelan writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz has crafted a fragmented, often incongruous, “rags-to-riches” biographical narrative, superficially spanning 10 years, including Duran’s courtship of his impressionable, schoolgirl wife, Felicidad (Ana de Armas), and the subsequent births of their five children.

While soft-spoken Robert De Niro is effective and Venezuelan-born Edgar Ramirez has his charismatic moments, the overall effect is ennui because Jakubowicz’s concept lacks focus.

There are too many undeveloped subplots: political bickering between Arcel and Duran’s manager, Carloa Elete (Ruben Blades), and entanglements with the Mob, personified by Frankie Carbo (John Turturro), revealed in conversations with Arcel’s wife, Stephanie (Ellen Barkin).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hands of Stone” is a fumbling, formulaic 5, despite the fancy footwork.

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