I Didn’t Know You Were So Into Boxing: A Review of ‘Hands of Stone’

1. I think I might have been one of the only women in the movie theater; generally speaking, boxing fans are men, and, especially when we refer back to older days of boxing glory, it’s going to be older men.

2. All of those 50+ year old men (plus my boyfriend and me) got to see Usher’s bare rear on one of the large projection screens that all Showcase Cinema locations have.

It’s not so much that I’m into boxing specifically; I just genuinely enjoy sports media. Maybe not always watching the actual sports at the time events are happening–though I’ve been known to indulge in some baseball and hockey–but there’s an excitement watching someone else tell the story of an underdog or how this team won the championship or whatever. For one thing, if a person is really passionate about what they’re telling you, it’s going to show in the storytelling regardless of medium, and for another, you get passionate about it, too. Sports writing is rarely boring, and the same follows for sports media, based on a true story or not.

“Hands of Stone” is based on the actual life and professional career of Roberto Durán, a Panamanian boxer who is considered one of the greatest fighters of at least the past 80 years, if not of all time. (I’ve been really enjoying biopics lately. It provides for some diversity from a movie market saturated with superheroes–which you would think I would like, but that’s neither here nor there.) Robert De Niro plays Durán’s coach, Ray Arcel, and the role is a good fit for him.

In order to be a Successful Sports Movie (in my opinion), you can’t just show what happens while the sport is being played. The people who saw it already (namely, the 50+ year old men who were in the theater) know the story and the outcome, and it’s going to be boring for them. You also have to appeal to the masses of people who either watch the sport peripherally or who don’t actually care about the sport to begin with–and in order to do that, you have to show that the athletes you’re depicting are actual people, and you need to show their flaws or their human traits or the things that make them admirable. Or all three.

I thought that “Hands of Stone” did this pretty well; Durán is not always a good person, and he makes a lot of mistakes. He tries to excuse his misogyny by bringing up the oppression he’s faced as a Panamanian while the United States controlled the Canal–but he’s still held to task for that misogyny by Ray Arcel. He’s nasty when he’s drunk, and he ends up letting some of the fortune that came with boxing go to his head to the point where he expels his oldest friends from his life. You still want to root for the guy because you feel bad for him, and you want him to succeed–even as he makes you groan in frustration at the things he’s doing to the people around him (and himself). Whether or not all of it is true or dramatized for the sake of the movie doesn’t really matter in the end, because you still have the compelling story at the end of the day.

For another thing, “Hands of Stone” doesn’t pull punches with the way it shows the affects of the U.S. occupying the Panama Canal. It’s impossible to pretend that the U.S. hasn’t done bad things, and if a movie about a Panamanian boxer who had so much of his life shaped by that U.S. military presence in his childhood and even adulthood (the film makes a point of showing Durán being arrested for street fighting as a kid, which led to him being picked up as a boxer from the jail, and then later during his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard intense flashbacks to violence Durán witnessed at the hands of U.S. forces) doesn’t show that, it’s doing a disservice to its subject and its audience. It can be easy for filmmakers to gloss over the political, particularly if it’s unsavory–but it’s so much better when they show it for what it is.

Spoiler alert: the R rating on this movie isn’t because of the violence. There are a few sex scenes (and, again, I doubt those 50+ year old men expected to see Usher’s ass on a movie screen when they walked into the theater that day). I wasn’t crazy about them, since I don’t really like romance in my sports movies in general, and also because there isn’t much point to them. The first time there was sex the screen turned away to a street view, which I thought was tasteful, since you still know what’s happening, but it’s not in your face. With each consecutive year, Durán and his wife are shown in the hospital after a match while she’s having another baby, and that’s fine. It’s funny. That said, there are a few sex scenes (between but Durán and his wife as well as between Leonard and his) that felt purposeless. I can understand the need to appeal to a wider audience than just fans of boxing in the 1970’s and 80’s, but if your sex scenes aren’t adding anything to the story, what’s the point?

There were a few loose ends that I noticed, and a lot of them revolved around Ray Arcel–they brought his daughter in, but it felt like that story was parsed down, and would have made more sense in a movie that was about Ray Arcel rather than about Roberto Durán.

Did this movie do anything outstandingly new? Maybe not–but then, neither have many other movies that came out this year.

All things considered, I enjoyed this movie. It was exciting and better than a lot of other movies I’ve seen this year. It might not get as many ticket sales as movies that aren’t as good, which is unfortunate; a lot of people want to see more diversity in the films that are being produced, and it’s great when you can tell a true story–but, what I’ve noticed at least, is that instead of seeing trailers for them in a way that makes a meaningful impression, moviegoers are often bombarded with the same “Jason Bourne” or “Jack Reacher” trailers every time they go. As someone who goes to the movies a lot (like, at least three times a month), I only ever saw one trailer for “Hands of Stone.” It’s not fair for audiences that they have to actively seek movies staring people of color out for themselves, and that when they can’t find them or aren’t exposed to them and the movies don’t make money, studios can make the claim that nobody is interested.

If you like boxing, boxing movies, and recent Central American history, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.

If you liked this post and want to send me money to watch and review more movies so you don’t have to, consider sending me a coffee through Ko-fi.com.

 

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Author: jillboger

Part time writer. Editor-in-Chief for the Bridge volume 13, former EIC for The Odyssey at BSU. My glasses protect my secret identity.

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