“Hands of Stone”


            Well, if you're going to have a movie made about yourself, you might as well emphasize the good parts and gloss over the bad stuff.

            Roberto Duran was born in the slums of El Chorrillo, Panama, in 1951.  His father was a U.S. Army serviceman, who was transferred back to the States and disappeared from their lives.  Roberto hustled money in the streets any way he could as a young boy, but soon discovered he had a talent for fighting.  He never really lost his vision of himself as a street brawler.  But he did recognize that if he was going to get better, he needed professionals to train him.  One of the early trainers had to bail him out of jail.

            This was a time of some political unrest in Panama surrounding control of the Panama Canal.  The U.S., claiming it had bought the land and built it and therefore owned it, was prepared to defend its territory with troops, but the Panamanians felt they had been fleeced, and wanted to wrest control away from the Americans.  Roberto grew up thinking Americans were exploiters, which of course spilled over to his personal dismissal of his American father, who abandoned him.

            Nevertheless, Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) eventually formed a partnership with an American trainer, Ray Arcel (Robert DeNiro), who knew he had a talented physical fighter with notable punching power (“hands of stone”), but wanted to teach him the mental aspects of boxing, especially ring strategy and tactics.  As Duran matured, he also developed his softer side as a family man, marrying Felicidad (Ana de Armas) and having six children with her. Duran had turned pro at 16, and won the lightweight title at age 21, and though suffering a non-title defeat that's not chronicled in the movie, Duran moved up to welterweight and famously defeated “Sugar Ray” Leonard (Usher Raymond), the former Olympic champion.

            It's the re-match of that fight that is Duran's enduring legacy.  Though he later claimed he never said “No mas,” that's the way the world remembers it, when he abruptly resigned in the middle of the bout.  True, he'd had trouble making weight, and likely overate after the weigh-in and before the fight.  But more than that, he'd lost some of his street anger on his way to success.  He finally had enough to eat, a nice house, a loving wife and family, and he just wasn't as lean and hungry as he used to be. He even met his father once, in the U.S., and found out he was of Mexican descent.

            But Duran still had his pride, and most of his skills, so he moved up yet another weight class, and at age 32, won the middleweight title.  The movie ends his boxing career there, and so fails to chronicle the loss in his re-match with Leonard in the super middleweight class, or any of his other “past his prime” fights, until at age 49 he claimed the super middleweight title from a fringe organization, then lost his final fight at age 50 just before suffering serious injuries in a car accident and calling it a career.  He had won in four weight classes and fought in five decades, retiring as one of the greatest “pound for pound” boxers ever.

            It would have been a more thorough story had the movie covered his entire career, and not just his prime.  It would have also been a more complete account had the movie mentioned the treaty in which the United States relinquished control of the Panama Canal over a period of time, finally fully ceding it to Panama in 1999. (Not to mention the fact that it was the French who originally began the project and abandoned it before the Americans completed it.)  The movie implies a time of personal dissolution for Duran, and even infidelity, but glosses over the details, showing him smiling with his wife during the credits, looking like the grandfather he now is.  Nonetheless, Roberto Duran remains a compelling figure in the  colorful boxing annals, and this movie is a fair representation of his remarkable ring career.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Should boxing be banned as a sport?

2)                  Can you name any current boxing titleholders?

3)                  Is the Panama Canal on your bucket list?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association