Hands of Stone
Roberto was a fighter long before he stepped in the ring.
He grew up in Panama, in the district known as the House of Stone. As a child he sold papers, stole papayas and evaded American soldiers. Sometimes, he'd take on another kid in an informal bout. Older, bigger, it didn't matter. The other kid would fall. They always fell. Then Roberto would stuff the money in his pants, strutting away like a champ.
But talent like his doesn't go unnoticed for long. Soon, Roberto's fighting for a local gym, strapping gloves on his bare knuckles and fighting in a ring with rules. As he works his way up through the local ranks, Roberto attracts interest from bigger boxing fish. Soon, he's being introduced to one of the biggest fish of all: a legendary American trainer who's guided fighters to championship belts for decades.
"This man can make you a world champ," Roberto's manager, Carlos, tells him.
But Roberto waves him away. Roberto's father was American, and he deserted Roberto's family when he was just a babe. He's pretty familiar with Yankee soldiers, too, what with their guns and their tear gas, constant reminders of their dominance on Panamanian soil. Roberto's had his fill of Americans. And he doesn't believe another American has anything to teach him.
"You're right," Ray says, and he walks away.
But not for long.
The two begin an unlikely friendship—one that will span decades, dozens of fights and, yes, a smattering of championships. Roberto Duran would eventually earn his spot in the pantheon of the world's most legendary fighters. And Ray Arcel, with a few well-placed words of wisdom, would be in his corner for almost every step.
Movies and boxing have a long history. Often, the boxer's real opponent isn't so much the guy in the other corner, but his own personal demons. And so it is, in a sense, with Hands of Stone.
Roberto is a strong, naturally gifted fighter. But he lacks discipline. And he hates, we're told, pretty much everything—especially the United States. Ray, however, sagely teaches Roberto strategy and self-control. Under Ray's tutelage, Roberto—slowly, haltingly—becomes a better fighter … and a better person. And when the time comes for the two to part ways, Ray gently lets Roberto know how much he sacrificed to turn the fighter into a star. "The American you're talking to now?" he says. "He gave you the best years of his life."
Ray risked more than Roberto knows. The trainer was nearly killed by the Mob when Ray tried to bring boxing to a wider audience. (The wise guys wanted the action, which they controlled, to center around Madison Square Garden). In exchange for his life, Ray promised never to make another cent from the sport. So when he returns to train Roberto, he does so for free. And he does so until his long-lost, heroin-addicted daughter resurfaces. Ray then gives up his career, in part, to care for and be with his daughter.
Roberto also has his strong points even before Ray arrives on the scene. He's very generous, working (albeit sometimes dishonestly) to provide for his mom and scads of siblings. Once he makes it big, Roberto spreads his wealth around Panama. In one scene, Roberto's wife, Felicidad, cautions that he's already given away $100,000. Roberto seems unconcerned, wanting to share his success with the people he grew up with and the community he loves.
When Roberto is in the midst of a comeback attempt, he's pointed to Panama's spiritual heart—the procession of the Black Christ in Portobelo. We see him, along with several other men, carrying a large Catholic icon through the streets. A sanctuary is strewn with candles. We also see a cross hanging on an interior wall.
Ray says "ring sense" is a "gift from God," something that fighters are either blessed with or cursed with.
Roberto and Felicidad begin their relationship while Felicidad is still in high school. The two flirt for some time before they duck into Roberto's sketchy bachelor pad during a rainstorm. Sex (including nudity and movements) ensues. Lingering camera shots in the lengthy scene focus on their bare bodies. Later—several children later, in fact—the two playfully wrestle on the bed and banter about their private parts. Out of the camera's sight, Felicidad appears to undo Roberto's pants and touch him.
Roberto is not the most monogamous partner, however. At a party in Las Vegas, the fighter dances and sways with women in skimpy outfits. Later, Felicidad finds Roberto passed out in what appears to be a lounge area, surrounded by several topless women. (His head rests on a woman's uncovered breast). When the two fight later, Felicidad angrily suggests that he go find another woman. "I can have thousands of women!" Roberto roars.
Roberto insults the wife of Sugar Ray Leonard, his most famous adversary, in the that boxer's presence. Roberto suggests that once he's done knocking out Sugar Ray in the ring, he'll bed his wife. Later, in the lead-up to a rematch between the two rivals, Sugar Ray winks at Felicidad, who smiles back at him—igniting Roberto's jealousy. Sugar Ray also has sex with his own wife, and we see his exposed backside as the two are engaged in sexual activities on a bed.
Felicidad and others wear revealing outfits. There are references to "whores" and "hookers."
Boxing is obviously a violent sport, and we witness plenty of pugilistic action here. Opponents punch each other repeatedly. Those impacts are sometimes accompanied by the sounds of grinding, cracking bones and soft tissue—as if the joints are being stretched to the limit, Blood drains from facial cuts. Bruises seal eyes shut. Repeatedly, fighters (or wannabe fighters, some of whom are just children) talk about how they're going to "kill" their opponent. And while most of that action takes place inside the ring, a young Roberto sometimes fights with his bare hands, cold-cocking his pint-size opponents with his fledgling fists of granite.
Roberto grabs at Felicidad in anger. She scrambles away but, in so doing, knocks over a lamp that cuts her hand.
A Panamanian friend of Roberto's is killed by a bus. A riot breaks out regarding U.S. ownership of the Panama Canal: One man is shot with a non-lethal round while trying to replace an American flag with a Panamanian one. Rioters surge forward, and later we see overturned vehicles and flames in the streets. We're told the three-day riot killed 22 Panamanians and four U.S. soldiers. Guns are pointed and sometimes fired in the air.
Crude or Profane Language
About 50 f-words, at least a dozen s-words and other profanities including "a--," "b--ch" and crude slang terms for private body parts. God's name is misused twice, once combined with "d--n," and Jesus' name is abused once. The n-word is uttered. Both Ray and Roberto use the Yiddish slang term "schmuck."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Roberto and others drink heavily at a party, and he throws a glass of booze at a patron floating in his private pool. He's clearly intoxicated other times as well, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. In one scene, Felicidad helps him up from the floor to a nearby couch. Others quaff wine, beer, whiskey and various alcoholic drinks.
Ray's daughter suffers a heroin overdose, and the two reunite in a hospital room, the young lady looking truly horrid. Felicidad smokes once.
Other Negative Elements
Carlos signs up Roberto for a lucrative fight, apparently without the fighter's permission. As a child, Roberto steals fruit and lies to his mother.
Is violence not violence if it's sanctioned violence? Is first degree assault OK if two people agree to it?
Albeit with increasing hesitation, society still says yes, and I suppose that many of us would agree. But when you watch a movie about boxing—dramatized though it is—the sport's inherent brutality feels more visceral. Paradoxically, it feels more real. The screens are bigger, the cameras are closer. You hear the blows, feel the crunch. It's this dramatic violence that has drawn Hollywood to the ring for decades, violence that draws people to watch today, even as the sport itself arguably recedes somewhat from mainstream awareness.
There's more to this movie than just boxing, of course. And that's where Hands of Stone sometimes feels more like Hands of Ham. The movie flails when it uses Roberto Duran's career as a catalyst to talk about U.S. ownership and occupation of the Panama Canal (which ended in 1999). It strays into sexually graphic territory too. And the language can be almost as raw and assaulting as a gloved fist to the jaw. Indeed, like the sport that inspired it, this story works better when it stays inside the ring. When it strives to chronicle the friendship of Roberto Duran and Ray Alcer, played most ably by Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro, the movie's not at its best.
But even at its best, the violence here is simply inescapable.
Ray says that boxing is an intellectual game—a triumph of brain over brawn. I get that. But we don't see that. Not here. At its core, Hands of Stone is a movie about men pounding each other into submission, even to the point of humiliation. It's about leather-wrapped hands smashing into guts and jaws, drawing blood when they can, searching for the final blow that will turn off the lights and send an opponent crashing to the canvas. This movie wants you, the audience member, to feel these blows, to wince as they land.
And Hands of Stone suggests something more. That this violence somehow solves … something. It fills some kind of a void in those who participate in boxing. For Roberto, this in-ring violence isn't just a job. It isn't just a passion. It's an answer. An answer that somehow salves Roberto's anger, serves as solace to a fractious political climate and somehow makes him a better man.
But that sort of lesson—that violence can help us solve our problems—runs counter to what we generally try to teach our children.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran; Robert De Niro as Ray Arcel; Ana de Armas as Felicidad Iglesias; Rubén Blades as Carlos Eleta; Ellen Barkin as Stephanie Arcel; Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard; Óscar Jaenada as Chaflan; Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Juanita Leonard
Jonathan Jakubowicz ( )
August 26, 2016
November 22, 2016