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hands of stone, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Hands of Stone (2016) 

It’s easy to belittle Hands of Stone for its reliance on biopic tropes and conventional character arc. Opening with a significant event in the subject’s life, the film flashes back to detail  his hardscrabble beginnings before fame and fortune. When an atypical act leads to his downfall, the support of a loving woman inspires a comeback. Further criticism could be leveled at the attention paid to a white character, who also supplies the narration of this brown man’s story. While all this is valid, Hands of Stone remains an enjoyable film that benefits from a strong cast, no-nonsense direction and a narrative that extends beyond the square ring.

Roberto Duran’s hatred of all things American is established early, setting up an interesting (if one-sided) exploration of Panama-US relations. Abandoned by his American father, Duran is forced to work, steal and fight from an early age to help provide for his mother and siblings. When a boxing coach recognizes his potential after seeing him in a street-fight, Duran turns professional and quickly rises up the ranks of the sport’s lighter weight classes. However the young tearaway lacks discipline, causing his manager to seek the help of an old friend, retired trainer Ray Arcel. One problem… he’s an American.

Though the dynamic between Duran and Arcel forms the backbone of Hands of Stone, many other subplots are pursued, including Duran’s relationships with his wife Felicidad, his rival Sugar Ray Leonard, his childhood mentor Chaflan and his manager Carlos Eleta. When Arcel’s history with his estranged daughter Adele and mob boss Frankie Carbo are added into the mix, the biopic runs the danger of becoming an unfocused shambles. Yet each story is told with a minimum of fuss, divulging character motivation that adds to the film’s overarching tale.

A nice blend of new and old Hispanic talent in front of and behind the camera lends the film a unique perspective with Ana de Armas impressing in one of her earlier US financed films. Veteran performers Ellen Barkin and John Turturro round out the ensemble cast while Robert De Niro, in his role as Ray Arcel, offers an intriguing counterpoint to his portrayal of Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta.

Spencer Tracy, Thomas Edison, Thomas Alva Edison
fact check, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

Ray Arcel is depicted negotiating with mob boss Frankie Carbo after the Duran-Leonard rematch, even though Carbo died four years before the fight took place.

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