Robert De Niro’s presence in the new Roberto Duran boxing bio Hands Of Stone only served to remind me how inferior this picture is to many other films revolving around the sport including Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic Raging Bull, which won De Niro an Oscar for his immortal portrayal of Jake La Motta. As I say in my video review above, there is nothing horribly wrong with this story of Duran’s life and times in and out of the ring, it’s just that as a standard biopic, boxing pic and fact-based story, it is rather paint-by-numbers.
Venezuelan-born writer-director Jonathan Jakubovich has done an acceptable job of getting it all on the screen, but the problem is he has tried to get it all on the screen. In doing so, he’s attempted way too much rather than zeroing in on a character study of what made Duran (who is still around, actually) tick. We see his early years growing up in Panama, his gradual rise in the boxing game, his signature fight versus Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 (the year Raging Bull was released), his eventual retreat with the famous fight where he basically quit (remember “no mas”?) and of course the obligatory comeback. Mixed in with all this is his personal life with wife and kids, the political upheavals in his country, an encounter, mostly with his manager, with Mafia types (mainly John Turturro, in briefly as Frankie Carbo) and much more.
On the plus side, the film is blessed to have Edgar Ramirez as Duran. He is an exceptional actor and brings the boxer to life in a vivid way — even if the matches themselves are ho-hum stuff, particularly compared to what Creed recently accomplished as well as the upcoming and superior Bleed For This which debuts next week at the Telluride Film Festival. The highlight here is clearly the Leonard fight, and surprisingly, pop star Usher Raymond acquits himself nicely in that role, fully believable as that boxing great. De Niro plays Duran’s legendary trainer-manager Ray Arcel with a lack of flash and a lot of authority. Sure, this star could probably do this kind of role in his sleep, but he steps up to the challenge here and immerses himself completely in the part. He’s another highlight here as you might imagine.
Supporting him as his wife is the always welcome presence of Ellen Barkin as well as his real-life daughter Drena De Niro as his estranged daughter. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) does what she can as Duran’s wife, but isn’t given a whole lot to work with. I did like the Latin flavor Jakubovich manages to create, especially the use of music — the colorful score is credited to Angelo Milli.
The Weinstein Company releases the film today and goes wider next Wednesday. Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.