The sport of boxing has its fair share of greats. All individually talented, however, uniquely gifted. Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran being one of them, the talented Panamanian blessed the world of boxing from the 60s, through the 80s, and although retired… still remains an iconic figure in the minds, bodies and souls of those he served as an inspiration for within the sport, as well as those outside of it. Still considered the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, the man’s rags-to-riches story is full of blood, sweat, and tears. With a general life-story of rise, fall, and redemption… It was about time a talented, positive Latino figure was paid some kudos by Hollywood.
Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, HANDS OF STONE tells the story of how the legendary boxer (played by Edgar Ramirez) and his celebrated trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) changed each other’s lives. From 1964 through 1983, in the heart-beat of the golden era of boxing, the film centers among the ups, downs, and in-betweens that lead to Duran’s infamous rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher).
In a recent interview I had with Mr. Jakubowicz, cutting to the chase as I spar my way of words into the start of our conversation, his reaction towards a comment of mine regarding my status in life versus his is, “If there’s one thing the movie teaches us is that there’s no such thing as losers. Only people who haven’t gotten back on their feet.”
And it’s true. Very true. The film’s narrative does portray a lot of will and desire, especially during dire moments of utter mental and soulful exhaust.
Mr. Jakubowicz goes on to express about Duran as an example of no retreat, no surrender when saying, “Duran is a true legend. A true hero. He’s inspiring. He overcame many enemies. Many barriers. Many demons within himself. He became a hero. He wasn’t born one. That’s the kind of hero we need. A real hero with flesh and blood.”
When setting out to work on his next project, Jakubowicz’s vision was dead-set on making sure it was different. Out of the ordinary. Nothing to do with what Hollywood normally portrays Latinos as, and everything to do with the opposite. Upon asking him why Duran, Jakubowicz says, “Searching for a positive Latino figure.” Making it his main focus, he mentions, about being “sick of Latinos being portrayed in mainstream media as criminals. As I was searching for the right story, I was considering Duran.”
But like many bio-pics, there’s always a bit of resistance. “At the beginning a ton,” says Jakubowicz as my curiosity piqued about Duran’s reluctance to accept. “He was not into the idea of doing a movie. He was fooled many times before. He was tough at the beginning. It took a long time for trust.”
It all flowed well, ultimately leading to the biggest payoff, which is Duran helping train Edgar Ramirez for the role. And it didn’t stop there because after having cast Usher for Sugar Ray Leonard’s role, Leonard also agreed to train Usher for the role. It was the ultimate accomplishment. “I had two of the best boxers of all time training the actors for my movie. I couldn’t have been more blessed.”
“Casting is 50% of directing,” expresses Jakubowicz as I follow through with the rest of the cast. When it comes to the cast, Robert De Niro never falls too far behind. After having played boxer Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL, now he’s on the other side as a trainer. The role of Ray Arcel, Duran’s trainer, mentor, and possible father-figure is another story we’re exposed to in HANDS OF STONE. “It’s a parallel story. Duran in search for his father, but through the flaws of that, Arcel is in search for a son. Arcel deserves the attention he got in the movie. He’s the creator of strategy. His approach to boxing was psychological.”
Touchy and emotionally driven, the film is presented in a way where it seems like it’s covering bullet points. A full fleshed out bio-pic of Duran may go on for hours, but with what HANDS OF STONE presents, I can only imagine what a more detailed narrative would do for the man. It’s neither here, nor there. Released on Friday, August 26 in over 2,600 screens, HANDS OF STONE is one of the widest releases in history for a Latino-based movie. That’s big and quite admirable in this day-and-age. One that solidifies what can happen when exposing an international Latino figure in a positive light. “I had that ambition. The fact that it’s getting a wide release makes me feel I wasn’t completely nuts. It’s a story that can reach a large audience.”
It does. It can. It will. No matter what end of your spectrum, HANDS OF STONE deserves your attention. I totally recommend it.
As usual, to hear the interview in its entirety for a deeper sense and feeling about the film, feel free to listen to my rawdio below.