“HANDS OF STONE” THE MOVIE — One of the most interesting prizefighters in the last 50 years for many reasons has to be Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran of Panama.
First, he’s from Central America, speaks little English and won world titles from lightweight to super middleweight. He’s barely 5’7” in height.
But many, including this writer, consider Duran to be one of the greatest to fight in the prize ring. A few will loudly say “but he lost to so and so.” Everybody loses. It’s just a matter of fighting a style that can beat you.
A movie depicting the life of “Manos de Piedra” Duran has just hit the shelves at various department stores and retail outlets for the holidays. It’s a “must have” movie for boxing lovers and sports fans in general. What a life Duran has led.
Film director Jonathan Jakubowicz spent several years along with his wife creating the film project about Panama’s hero. He spoke to us via the phone about the motion picture.
“It’s the movie that changed my life the most. It was a movie I put together from scratch with my wife who produced the movie,” said Jakubowicz who also directed “Secuestro Express” a film that forced him to leave Venezuela 10 years ago. “From raising money to fund the movie, to casting and to selling the movie it was a hands-on made production.”
The key was getting Robert De Niro one of the greatest actors of this generation to play the central figure Ray Arcel, the famous boxing trainer.
Once Jakubowicz got De Niro on board the pieces began to fall in place. The Academy Award winner had previously played famous boxer Jake LaMotta in the movie “Raging Bull” for which he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1980.
De Niro holds this movie together with a terrific performance as the boxing trainer who led champions such as Benny Leonard, Ezzard Charles and Duran. It’s something that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Arcel taught many a prizefighter the tricks of the trade from the 1920s to the 1980s and two of those fighters, Benny Leonard and Duran, are widely considered the two best lightweights of all time. Adversely different inside the ring, Benny Leonard was a classic boxer and strategist. Duran was a ferocious fighter with natural talent and an abundance of fighting skills often overlooked.
Coincidentally, I ran into Duran at Big Bear just days before he departed for the Cannes Festival for a showing of his story on film. He was helping Sugar Shane Mosley prepare for a fight last May and was at his camp for several weeks in the mountain resort.
“I’m kind of excited to go to Cannes,” said Duran while in Big Bear. “My son is going with me and Robert De Niro is going too.”
Duran still has that fire inside that made him special among all prizefighters. It burns intensely as he talks about the sport he loves. During that period he was also preparing for a possible showdown with Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. in an exhibition fight on a Top Rank card. It didn’t materialize, but Duran took the challenge with complete seriousness. That alone spoke volumes about the Panamanian’s intensity and focus.
The film “Hands of Stone” depicts that intensity but also includes the political elements of Panama and the U.S. This may be a major reason that not all viewers loved the movie. But for others, it’s a major reason to watch it. Central America, and in this case Panama, is a country of mystery for most outside of American shores. The film ties together Duran’s career and love of his country.
Jakubowicz filmed much of the movie on 105 locations.
“We recreated most of the movie in Panama. Four decades and five cities of Panama City, Las Vegas, New York,” said Jakubowicz. “But many of the scenes of New York, Montreal and New Orleans were all filmed in Panama. Part of the city and even a replica of Madison Square Garden were built by Americans.”
The most difficult task in making the film was convincing Duran himself to give permission.
“He doesn’t trust anyone,” said Jakubowicz, adding that it was De Niro who was the convincer.
Later, Panama’s other hero Ruben Blades was also sought. It took an extra convincing from De Niro to broker the deal to bring the famous singer, actor and politician to play Carlos Eleta the now deceased former manager to the fighter.
“Nobody knows Panama better than Ruben Blades,” said Jakubowicz.
The rest of the film is well known to boxing lovers such as the encounters with Sugar Ray Leonard. But the winning of the first world title against Ken Buchanan and later winning the super welterweight title against Davey Moore are seldom told stories.
Duran remains one of the sport’s greatest stories.
The DVD is available now.
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