‘Hands of Stone’ Movie Review

Hands of Stone stars Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramirez
Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramirez star in ‘Hands of Stone’ (Photo: Rico Torres © 2015 The Weinstein Company)

“In 66 seconds Roberto Durán changed my life,” says Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) who’s about to come out of retirement after watching Durán box in the dramatic film, Hands of Stone.

In 1972, Arcel is drawn out of retirement when he’s approached by his friend and colleague, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), to train Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramirez), a tough, cocky, and angry young man who grew up in Panama, struggling to help provide for his family by stealing and fighting. Durán, who distrusts Americans since his American father abandoned the family, is reluctant to work with Arcel. But with the encouragement of Eleta and after Arcel quickly convinces him he still has much to learn about the sport of boxing (including strategy), the two men form an unbeatable team.

Fast-forward to 1980 and, with encouragement from his wife, Felicidad (Ana de Armas), Durán trains to go up against Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) in a battle for the WBC welterweight title. Using both the strategy he learned from Arcel and his own rude behavior and crass personality as weapons, Durán sets out to defeat Sugar Ray, a fighter who has never been beaten in the ring.

Based on a true story, Hands of Stone is a classic underdog story with a solid cast. Edgar Ramirez is very effective portraying Duran, displaying the boxer’s drive, arrogance, and physical strength as though he feels completely at home in the ring. Unfortunately for Ramirez and for Hands of Stone, Durán is simply impossible to like or root for.


Robert De Niro delivers another strong performance as Ray Arcel, formerly the best trainer in boxing before he was forced out by the New York mob. Arcel, both in the film and in real life, returned to the ring to train Durán because he was so taken by his brute strength and raw talent. The two men have chemistry together, but it’s neither as dynamic nor as intense as it should have been. Also, the subplot of his estranged daughter suddenly re-entering Arcel’s life and putting more pressure on him feels forced.

The hurdle the film just can’t get over despite impressive performances and fast-paced, well choreographed boxing scenes is the main character, Durán. He is an unforgiving, brutal, disrespectful, and incredibly unlikable character, and because this is an underdog story, the underdog needs to be sympathetic in at least some (even minor) respect. He’s not, and that makes it impossible for the audience to care about Durán. This is never more evident than when Durán goes up against Sugar Ray Leonard, portrayed impressively by Usher, who’s shown as the class act professional boxer that he was. The audience is actually more likely to root for Sugar Ray to knock Durán’s block off than to pull for the film’s lead character.

GRADE: C

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity

Running Time: 105 minutes

Written and Directed By: Jonathan Jakubowicz

Release Date: August 26, 2016