It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Some of the best biopics are the ones that focus on a pivotal point in a major figure’s life and use that period as a prism through which to understand what makes that person tick, what makes that person matter. Che Guevara’s road trip in “The Motorcycle Diaries” and Steve Jobs’ product launches in “Steve Jobs” immediately come to mind. They don’t try to give a celebrity the complete cradle-to-grave treatment, but rather provide a more intimate, specific look.
“Hands of Stone,” about the legendary boxer Roberto Durán, could have used such an approach. It’s clearly there in his rivalry with American “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Their back-and-forth in and out of the ring is just tantalizing—the most compelling part of the whole movie. And Edgar Ramírez and Usher Raymond bring these very different fighters vividly to life.
Instead, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz depicts Durán from his impoverished youth as a scrappy kid on the streets of Panama through his rise in the sport, his thrilling capturing of the welterweight title against Leonard in 1980, his fall in the famous “No Mas” rematch and his subsequent, triumphant return as light middleweight champion at Madison Square Garden.
That’s a lot of ground to cover. Jakubowicz also skips around in time to cram in Durán’s family life with his wife and five kids, the turmoil that rocked Panama during Durán’s early years, the swelling sense of national pride as the Panama Canal returned to the country’s ownership and the resentment Durán carried as an adult over the American father who abandoned him as a child. He also tells the whole tale from the perspective of Durán’s trainer, Ray Arcel, a legend in his own right with his own backstory and baggage.