HANDS OF STONE (2016) 3.5 Stars (out of 5)


When we think of Robert De Niro, what is your favorite movie among the more than 100 films he has appeared in: TAXI DRIVER (1976); THE DEER HUNTER (1978); AWAKENINGS (1990); CAPE FEAR (1991); and most recently, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).

Personally, my two favorite De Niro roles were in THE GODFATHER PART II, which awarded him the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor (1974); and RAGING BULL, which awarded him the Oscar as Best Actor of the Year (1980).

The great New York Times film critic — Vincent Canby wrote in his review: “Raging Bull is a big film, its territory being the landscape of the soul. Jake La Motta, played by Robert De Niro in what may be the performance of his career, is a titanic character.” Decades later, another critic, Cole Smith (Smart New Media) in writing about America’s classic films, wrote: “Robert De Niro’s metamorphosis into boxing legend Jake La Motta is one of the most impressive acting transformations on celluloid”. High praise indeed.

Just as Sylvester Stallone returned to the “celluloid ring” last year in CREED, Robert De Niro now also returns to the ring — some 36 years later, in what is a very interesting, challenging and uneven HANDS OF STONE.

HANDS OF STONE — while not as good as last year’s CREED, which in my opinion was one of the best films of 2015, is still worth seeing. It is exciting to watch Mr. Di Niro return to the ring to train another boxing legend, Roberto Durand. Mr. Di Niro also serves as the narrator of this mostly true story. His opening words, “We are what we do” sets the stage.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, HANDS OF STONE tells the story of Roberto Duran, one of the greatest fighters of all time. Actor Edgar Ramirez (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, CARLOS, ZERO DARK THIRTY) gives a career defining performance. He portrays the explosive pride, anger and frustration of this conflicted man. He will also be seen in this fall’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

I want to single out Usher (billed as Usher Raymond IV), who portrays Duran’s number one rival “Sugar” Ray Leonard. His performance is a revelation. If he ever decides to retire from winning Grammy awards, he might consider working towards winning Academy Awards.

I also want to single out Ellen Barkin, who is able to touches us so deeply in the few scenes that she is in. Also note how the exceptional use of sound and music enhances and influences a film like this.

In the end unfortunately, the challenge for HANDS OF STONE will be the comparison to other boxing movies. It is not RAGING BULL and it is not ROCKY. But the story of the relationship between the United States fighting over the control of the Panama Canal really needs to be told, especially during this negative 2016 Presidential campaign.

The story of Roberto Duran needs to be remembered.

And the story of Ray Arcel continues to be an inspiration for all sports fans. “The trainer,” Arcel once said, “is the boss. The trainer is the pillar of hope for every fighter. It is like watching a child grow day to day. There’s just something about it.” (Wikipedia). Ray was a boxing trainer who was active from the 1920’s through the 1980’s. He trained eighteen world champions. For those who do not stay through the credits, HANDS OF STONE is dedicated to Ray’s widow, Stephanie Arcel.

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