When Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) begins training with legendary coach Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) both of their careers change, along with their lives. Then Roberto crosses paths with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher). One of the biggest rivalries in boxing takes shape in Hands of Stone.
Hands of Stone is a mixed bag. The strongest aspect by far is the performances. Ramirez is Roberto Duran, he transforms into the Panamanian icon. He nails the accent, mannerisms, and aurora. Ramirez plays that high of being the world champ, too the spiral out of control beautifully. The surprise is Usher as Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s not the huge presence as you think he may be, but when he’s on screen it’s a delight.
There’s nothing you can say about Robert De Niro that hasn’t already been said. Ray Arcel’s story becomes the heart of this movie at times, there’s no one better to put that on than De Niro. You can feel his love for the sport of boxing from the first frame, to the famous No Mas fight, and in the touching finale. It’s a Ray Arcel story for some of the film.
For me the problem is this plot, it’s way to muddled. The movie never focused on just one aspect of Duran’s story. You went from early life, right into amateur boxing, to the Sugar Ray saga. On top of that you have Ray Arcel’s dealings with the mob, his wife, and trying to expand boxing. This movie was just way to short to cover all of this subject matter, and the things they did focus on felt irrelevant for the amount of time spent. It felt like a good half an hour spent on Duran becoming a party animal, not training for Sugar. It makes it so hard to root for him. You would root for Sugar Ray, if there is a lot of time spent on him. Leading into that second fight you got partying from Duran, and one Sugar scene. A missed opportunity to have the movie flip in to Sugar’s story, but you just end up not caring about either.
When you get down to it, Hands of Stone has a lot of flaws. The story just doesn’t let you get settled in. You want to be invested in Duran but the movie just doesn’t let you do that. Performances make it worth a cable watch but other than that just skip it for now.