Hands of Stone Review
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In 1980, Robert De Niro starred as boxer Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. For his latest boxing movie, Hands of Stone, he takes his place in the corner to play a boxing trainer. But this isn’t necessarily one of the highlights of his long and remarkable Hollywood career.

Hands of Stone tells the story of Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez), a scrappy Panamanian fighter who became a boxing legend with help from long-retired trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro). Throughout the ‘70s, as Panama fought for control of the Canal, Durán fought for national pride, working his way from the streets to the ring at Madison Square Garden. But he found himself facing a new and unfamiliar challenge when he decided to fight the new pride of America, Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond).

Somewhere in here, there’s a powerful story about pride, determination, and ego—but Hands of Stone is such a wildly unfocused biopic that the message never really comes through. On one hand, it’s the story of a young boxer’s rise from fighting for food to international stardom, followed by a story about the dangers of fame. But it’s also the story of Ray’s run-ins with organized crime and his personal challenges. And there’s some historical and political context to complicate matters even more.

Granted, when Ramírez and De Niro are working together, it makes for some interesting drama. De Niro is strong as the renowned trainer who just wants to spend his life doing what he loves. And while Ramírez’s Durán isn’t always a likable character, he still has just enough charm to keep audiences from checking out. But, outside the fights and the training sessions, everything gets too messy. Random subplots—like a side note involving Ray’s long-lost daughter—generally distract attention away from the story instead of building it up. And even the political aspects of the film—which seem to play an important part in developing Durán’s character—are hazy.

The ups and downs of Durán’s career definitely make for an intriguing story, but there’s simply no flow to the narrative. It’s uneven and needlessly complicated—and it ends up feeling like a jumble of thoughts and ideas and events instead of a coherent drama.

The stars of Hands of Stone do their best to make a dramatic, layered biography—but they can’t really make up for the messy story. So while this isn’t a total disaster, it definitely isn’t a knockout.

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