Movie Review: Hands of Stone

The movie “Hands of Stone” has to be one of the first, if not the only movie biography that is equally about 2 people, Ray Arcel and Roberto Duran and their stories are both extremely well told throughout these two hours. Given that this movie is equally the life stories of two people, I was impressed that they were still able to tell the entire story in only two hours. For those who remember the famous “No Mas” fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran on November 25, 1980; after all these years, we all finally know the full story about what really happened and because of this, you have to figure that the happiest person in the world about how his life story was told in this film is Roberto Duran himself.

Roberto Duran’s life is easy to understand. He was born into extreme poverty, where his American father left him and his family at a very young age leaving him to forage food in dumpsters and on the streets of Panama. When a person is born into a nightmare life like this you have two choices. Either you lay down and accept it, or you get angry and refuse to accept your reality. Duran got angry, very angry and he turned that anger into extreme energy and rage in the boxing ring where he very soon became known as the “hands of stone”, knocking out a high percentage of the fighters he faced.

Ray Arcel’s life was all about boxing and as he called it the “brain game” strategies that made him probably the greatest boxing trainer of all time and the first person inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Arcel’s earlier career in boxing was when the sport was dominated by organized crime and he was almost killed by the Mafia when he tried to making boxing more mainstream to include the rest of the Unites States and not just New York City and more specifically Madison Square Garden. He was allowed to continue in boxing by the Mafia only if he agreed to never get paid as a boxing trainer and while training Duran he was never paid for this training.

Some of the scenes between Robert Deniro, who plays Ray Arcel and Edgar Ramirez in between rounds of during major fights show once again, why Robert Deniro is one of the best actors of all time. Due to Duran’s mistrust of all Americans, the conflict between Arcel and Duran between rounds is outstanding and as real as anything I have seen on the screen in a long time. Time after time, Arcel would try and get Duran to take direction and follow the pre-agreed strategy only to be rejected because Duran did not trust his intentions as somehow he thought that Arcel could be working for the other side and wanted Duran to lose. This film points out the brilliance of Arcel knowing that boxing is far more than just physical skills, but also is at least one third a mind game as well. The singer Usher does a good job at playing Sugar Ray Leonard and you have to admire the hard work both Usher and Ramirez had to go through to get into believable boxing shape for this movie. I thought the boxing scenes were very well done in this film but not as good as I expected they would be going in. The actress Ana De Armas is also outstanding playing Duran’s wife and she was also recently very good in her role as the wife of David Packouz in War Dogs, which is also recently reviewed in this blog. Due to her performances in these two movies, Armas looks like she has a very promising future ahead in the movies.

As far as the No Mas fight, Duran to this day says that he never said “No Mas”, which means “I give up”. The real reason why he stopped fighting Leonard in their second fight was because he should have never been forced to fight Leonard again in the first place. He was 35 pounds overweight and had to lose all of that weight in some 75 days. Unfortunately, there was a deal made by his handler that forced him to fight Leonard or be sued by of all people, Don King. Later in the press conference a day before the fight, all because​ of a wink that Leonard made to Duran’s wife, he overate​ that night and because of this felt sick during the fight. Duran quit against Leonard not because of he was a coward, but because people in the audience were laughing at him because of Leonards clowning, which included sticking out his head and bolo-punching. Duran stopped fighting because of his pride gained through all the years of coming back from living like an animal on the streets of Panama. You could almost hear his thoughts when he left the ring, “nobody laughs at Roberto Duran”. Considering that Duran was able to come back from the very dark place he was in after this fight is an even greater tribute this movie can make to him apart from his great accomplishments​ as a fighter.

The movie “Hands of Stone” is outstanding throughout, and you don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate the history and the stories of two men who paid their dues in life, in a very big way. I highly recommend this film.