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 ** as Roberto Duran

Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran

“HANDS OF STONE” My rating: C+

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Hands of Stone” is  “Raging Bull” lite — a boxing biopic minus the genius of Martin Scorsese.

But it does have Robert DeNiro.

Written and directed by Venezuelan Jonathan Jacubowicz, the film takes on the troubled life and career of Roberto Duran, the Panamanian pugilist whose ring experiences were as much a product of his dysfunctional childhood and Third World resentments as they were of hard sweat and tremendous innate talent.

In a decade of championship fighting, Duran held the lightweight belt, engaged in a long-running war of words (and blows) with American champ Sugar Ray Leonard, and sometimes  behaved in private and in the ring like a spoiled child.

“Hands of Stone” feels like an attempt not to excuse that behavior but to put it in perspective.

Early scenes establish Roberto as the son of an American soldier who impregnated his mother and then vanished, setting  up in the future boxer a lifelong antipathy toward the United States.  That fury was only stoked by political upheaval in Panama over efforts to take back the Canal Zone from the gringos (the American-run canal, guarded by U.S. soldiers, effectively divided the country in half).

We see the young and charming (also unschooled and illiterate) Roberto (played as an adult by Edgar Ramirez) wooing a wealthy blonde schoolgirl, Felicidad (Ana de Armas), and starting a family even as his career is taking off.

In a sense “Hands of Stone” is a dual biography, its second subject being boxing trainer Ray Arcel (DeNiro).

When in 1971 he first saw Duran fight, Arcel had been out of boxing for nearly 20 years. In the early ’50s he had incurred the wrath of the mobsters (represented here by John Turturro) who ran the boxing business. He barely survived an assassination attempt and was allowed to live only if he steered clear of the fight game.

But he’s so moved by Duran’s potential that he gets the Mafia’s permission to train the kid with no pay.

Roberto is cocky and tough and at first resents the discipline Arcel demands. But slowly he begins to see his trainer’s genius, especially when it comes to mapping out the strategies that can win or lose a fight.

 

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