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Hands of Stone Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Hands of Stone (2016) movie poster Hands of Stone

Theatrical Release: August 26, 2016 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz

Cast: Edgar Ramírez (Roberto Durán), Robert De Niro (Ray Arcel), Usher Raymond IV (Sugar Ray Leonard), Rubén Blades (Carlos Eleta), Pedro "Budu" Perez (Plomo), Ana de Armas (Felicidad Iglesias), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Juanita Leonard), Óscar Jaenada (Chaflan), Ellen Barkin (Stephanie Arcel), John Turturro (Frankie Carbo), Reg E. Cathey (Don King), Yancey Arias (Benny Huertas), David Arosemena (Kid Durán), Robin Durán (Pototo Durán), Drena De Niro (Adele Arcel)

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Robert De Niro gives us another boxing movie in Hands of Stone,
but like his Grudge Match co-star Sylvester Stallone did in Creed, De Niro stays ringside this time and takes a supporting role as trainer. The star is Édgar Ramírez (The Bourne Ultimatum, Joy) playing Panamanian lightweight Roberto Durán.

Durán catches the eye of retired veteran New York-based trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro, aged a bit) on a trip to Central America. Arcel, who has been pushed out of boxing by New York Mafia not keen on his idea of taking the sport nationwide, opts to come out of retirement to train the promising but hot-headed Durán, who resists at first due to his disdain of the United States. After some leaping around gives us Durán's background in boxing from a poor kid on the streets, he comes around to accept Arcel in his corner.

"Hands of Stone" stars Édgar Ramírez as Panamanian lightweight champion boxer Roberto Durán.

We see very little of the mechanics of Arcel's training. The old-timer stresses the mental aspect of fighting and is seen in between every round combing Durán's long hair for what he later explains is a psychological advantage over his opponent. The film depicts three bouts at length, the first two of which pit Durán against Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher, at ease in a rare acting credit). It's odd to see an American sports movie want you to root for a Panamanian and against his American foe. Their battle wages on both in and outside the ring, with Durán belittling Sugar Ray and Sugar Ray's wife in interviews and hostile encounters.

The film's third and final match, the only non-title fight it dramatizes, offers Durán a chance at redemption, so you can probably guess the outcomes of the first two if you weren't following lightweight boxing in the late 1970s and early '80s. In addition to depicting his in-ring heroics, the movie gives us the fighter's life story: his meeting and wooing of his wife Felicidad (War Dogs' Ana de Armas) and the births of their many children (the males of which are all named "Roberto") two years apart. We also get a glimpse at Sugar Ray's marriage (former child actor Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays his wife) and Ray's marriage (Ellen Barkin plays his wife in three scenes), which comes to include a secret daughter with a drug problem (Drena De Niro, De Niro's real adopted daughter).

American trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) gives Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez) advice for both boxing and life.

An effort is made to put Durán's career into the context of Panama politics, from US military's presence to legislation over control of the Panama Canal to the assassination of a president. While they flesh out the film and throw a bone to viewers with no interest in boxing,
these bits never mesh especially well with the boxer's story or deepen our appreciation for his success.

Hands of Stone, whose title comes from Durán's nickname ("Manos de Piedra", locally), is written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan filmmaker who hasn't done much since helming Secuestro Express in 2005. A good amount of this film plays out in subtitled Spanish, Ramírez's native language.

Boxing has yielded some great films over the years, including, of course, De Niro's Raging Bull. Hands of Stone is not even close to being in the same league, which explains why awards player The Weinstein Company released the film wide in August instead of rolling it out closer to Christmas. It's comparable to Southpaw, a fictional Weinstein drama that opened around the same time a year earlier to mixed reviews, good box office, and absolutely nothing in the way of serious accolades. That is still a better reception than this mediocre film drew, with its pitiful $4.7 million gross making it the third least-attended film released to 2,000 or more theaters this year.

Hoping to find the film an audience in home video, Weinstein and home video partner Anchor Bay release it to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, just in time for the Black Friday and holiday season sales booms.

Hands of Stone: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English/Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Hands of Stone looks pretty good on Blu-ray. Parts of the 2.40:1 frame are occasionally lacking in focus, as they were in theaters. But the picture stays sharp and clean throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is lively and stellar, while the plentiful Spanish dialogue is translated by player-generated white English subtitles.

Édgar Ramírez discusses playing Roberto Durán in "A Boxing Legend, A Nation's Pride." Scarcely in the movie as Ray's wife Stephanie, Ellen Barkin does show up in this deleted scene in which the couple dines at Grand Central.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD bonus features begin with "Roberto Durán: A Boxing Legend, A Nation's Pride" (23:33),
one of Weinstein's substantial TV-ready making-of featurettes. It gathers talking head remarks and a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage.

Next up is a section consisting of eight deleted scenes (10:42) that are individually and collectively viewable. They offer more of Ray and his wife, Roberto taking in the sights of New York City, and some odds and ends.

The extras conclude with two variations of a "lyric video" for the original end credits song "Champions" featuring one of its co-writers/co-singers in interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Usher is the center and voice of the English one (2:26), while Ruben Blades is the attraction of other that's partially performed in Spanish (2:32).

The disc opens with trailers for Lion and Southpaw. Hands of Stone's own trailer is sadly not included.

The menu loops a montage of clips and dramatic score over a cracked green listings border.

Once stingy with slipcovers, Weinstein and Anchor Bay do treat Hands of Stone to one, which is most noteworthy for how it embosses much of its imagery down to Usher's abs (no joke). Two inserts sit across from the full-color disc, one supplying your Digital HD with UltraViolet code and the other offering coupon codes for Everlast (20% off) and 24 Hour Fitness (a free 3-day pass).

Scenes of Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez) in Panama include him courting affluent schoolgirl Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hands of Stone pales in comparison to most boxing movies, but it's a little better than Bleed for This, which just opened in theaters and features Durán in a climactic fight. While there is obvious passion poured into this biopic, it doesn't rub off on the viewer or make this drama any more than mediocre. The good extras and all right feature presentation of Weinstein's Blu-ray aren't enough to make this a priority rental and the disc seems bound for bargain bins in the near-future.

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Related Reviews:
Édgar Ramírez: JoyZero Dark ThirtyVantage Point | Robert De Niro: Grudge MatchSilver Linings PlaybookThe InternAmerican Hustle
Boxing: Bleed for ThisCreedSouthpawThe FighterRockyMillion Dollar BabyAnnapolisReal Steel
New to Disc: Cardboard BoxerWar DogsHell or High WaterArmy of OnePunch-Drunk LoveIndignationThe Sea of Trees

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Reviewed November 20, 2016.



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