FILM LETS VIEWERS OFF THE ROPES
Film Review by Fiore
HANDS OF STONE is another in a continuing stream of boxing films Hollywood is determined to produce. While other sports films are periodic, boxing is enjoying a massive entrenchment in the Hollywood staples. CREED, SOUTHPAW, HANDS OF STONE and WE BLEED FOR THIS will all be released within 11 months of each other. No other sport enjoys that type of celluloid celebrity.
In a recent interview on the award-winning OUTTAKES with FIORE, celebrated fighter and former Kicking Kritic Joe Messino claimed the appeal of boxing films is the story. “It’s not a team sport. It’s one-on-one once the fighters climb in the ring. The appeal of boxing films is the story of how and why the fighters are there.” Since Joe boasts myriad fighting trophies, I asked him to accompany me to the screening of HANDS OF STONE. I’m glad he did; for he provided an insight into the film I would not have otherwise gleaned. More on that later.
HANDS OF STONE is about Robert Duran, for that was his moniker in the ring. But Scriptwriter and Director Jonathan Jakubowicz actually approaches the story from the aspect of Duran’s trainer, Ray Arcel, played by Robert DeNiro. HANDS OF STONE is really his story; how he trained over 20 champion fighters in his career, how he fell in disfavor with the mob over televising boxing, and how he made a triumphant return to the sport when he discovered Duran. But no one knows Arcel; they do know Duran. So Jakubowicz spends script pages bouncing from one character to another, never really giving Arcel the main spotlight and diminishing the relationship between the two men.
Edgar Ramierez plays Duran and does a credible job. Unfortunately, he shares a lot of screen time with DeNiro and Rueben Blades, who plays Carlos Eleta, Duran’s shady, greedy manager. Blades is solid and presents Eleta in a fashion that makes viewers want Duran to punch him out instead of Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard, by the way, is played by Usher, the only pop singer to date to rhyme the words floor and blow in his hit “Yeah”. As an actor, Usher is a pretty good singer. He plays Leonard like a black Howdy Doody, constantly grinning and bobbing his head. He does, however have a love scene with Janelle Davidson, so I guess all is well in the end.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. The bar smackdown
2. The talk in the corner
3. The fight with Moore
Neither Ramierez or Usher can fight. I’m sure they went through hours of arduous training, but it is not Leonard-Duran caliber. Cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz (see, this name is ridiculous - two names and done) covers the faux pas by utilizing close-up shots and quick editing. Though not as confusing as the camera work in JASON BOURNE, it is still obvious there is no real boxing going on in the ring. Gylenhaal’s rounds and all of Stallone’s were considerably better, and those guys couldn’t fight either.
HANDS OF STONE is edited sporadically. While Arcel and Duran supposedly have this intense relationship, it is not presented well. More emphasis is placed on the two fights with Leonard. As a result, when the film’s final reels are displayed it is difficult to comprehend the emotional bond between the two. It is understandable why Editor Ethan Maniquis approached the film in this manner. In order to pace the film well, a lot of the byplay and bonding is short-circuited and the audience is forced to do a lot of reading between the scenes.
One advantage of having both Usher and Blades in the film is both are accomplished musicians. They perform individually and together on a majority of the film’s soundtrack. Its good music.
The one insight Joe presented to me was a maxim in most boxing films. The movie is virtually over before the final fight. He systematically went through the boxing films since the original ROCKY, and explained the theory. He then selected the scene that signified the conclusion of HANDS OF STONE. I won’t ruin the film for you by telling you what scene it is, however I will say the one trait in all the concluding scenes Joe highlighted is the fighter’s return to the “way of the warrior”.
It may sound odd to say about a boxing film, but personally I would like to have seen more scenes on the development of the relationship between Arcel and Duran, and less of the family and political scenarios used to set the stage. HANDS OF STONE is an average film, but one that had so much more potential, especially with DeNiro on set.
THE GRADE FOR HANDS OF STONE = C