Movie review of “Hands of Stone”: The acting in all roles is first rate, but Robert De Niro, as the trainer of Roberto Durán, is the undisputed champion. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
After so many late-career missteps and lazy cash grabs that have diminished his reputation as one of America’s great screen actors — “Dirty Grandpa,” anyone? — it’s wonderful to see Robert De Niro thoroughly engaged in a role that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt he still has greatness in him. In a role that’s meaty and demanding, he delivers a performance that’s not showy but rather quietly powerful and deeply affecting.
There’s a satisfying symmetry to the fact that it’s a boxing movie in which he fully re-connects with his muse. In a sense, he’s come full circle. “Raging Bull” was and remains his career pinnacle, while his work in “Hands of Stone” ascends to near that rarefied height.
He’s back in the ring, but not as a fighter. In “Hands of Stone,” he plays the trainer of Roberto Durán, the boxer whose nickname is the title of the picture.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Hands of Stone,’ with Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Ana de Armas, Usher Raymond IV, Ruben Blades. Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz. 105 minutes. Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. Several theaters.
As Ray Arcel, De Niro portrays a cerebral man who is a master of the art and science of boxing. I can’t recall another boxing movie that takes the audience so deep into ring psychology and strategy as this one. Arcel teaches Durán the intricacies of the physical aspects (punching and footwork) and the psychological dimension (including the importance of combing his fighter’s hair during bouts as a tactic to psyche out an opponent) of the sport with passion and confidence born of decades of working with scores of fighters.
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As Durán, Edgar Ramirez is a charismatic presence, capturing his character’s volatility, toughness and, above all, anger. Writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan filmmaker making a stunningly assured Hollywood feature debut, constructs a tale that combines geopolitics with fisticuffs as he traces Durán’s rise from the streets of his native Panama (much of the picture was shot there and much of the dialogue is in Spanish). Durán embodies the resentment of Panamanians to the U.S. control of the Panama Canal, which ended by a treaty-mandated handover by the U.S. to Panama during his boxing career.
The picture’s fight sequences are powerfully staged, particularly the bouts with Sugar Ray Leonard (elegantly portrayed by singer Usher). Durán’s famous “no mas” moment, in which, out of shape and unwilling to compete, he quit in the middle of a round, is gripping.
The acting in all roles is first rate, but in this one De Niro regains the title of undisputed champion.