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‘Hands of Stone’ Cannes Review: Nice Robert De Niro Celebration, Routine Boxing Movie

The movie about Roberto Durán got a big boost from his presence — and from an emotional salute to De Niro


Robert De Niro in a boxing movie. Harvey Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival. Some things are meant to be together.

And they were all together on Monday night in Cannes, when the Weinstein Company unveiled “Hands of Stone,” a movie about Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán starring Edgar Ramirez as Durán and De Niro as his longtime trainer Ray Arcel.

Perhaps predictably, the results were not as fabulous as the ingredients suggested they might have been. Two things, though, helped give a little kick to the black-tie event at the Grand Theatre Lumiere: Cannes turned it into a career tribute of sorts to De Niro, and the real Durán was on hand to bask in the glory before and after the movie about his life.

The De Niro tribute was particularly memorable, since the actor has been coming to Cannes for decades; “Taxi Driver” won the Palme d’Or here exactly 40 years ago. “He’s been a mentor to me, a kick-in-the-ass-er, a guy who tells you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it,” said Weinstein, who then turned the mic over to Ramirez, who added, “On behalf of generations and generations of actors inspired by your art, I salute you.”

De Niro took the stage after a clip package and tried to be typically terse — “All I can say is thank you” – until festival president Thierry Fremaux told him he needed to say something about “Hands of Stone.”

“I hope you like it,” he said haltingly. “We went through a lot of changes on it.” He talked about persuading director Jonathan Jakubowicz to look for financing to shoot the movie in Panama, Durán’s home country.

“The movie has been made the way it should have been made,” he said. “So I hope – we hope – that you enjoy the movie.” He looked at Fremaux and shrugged. “How’s that?”

The lack of apparent enthusiasm, sad to say, did not appear unwarranted when “Hands of Stone” screened, though to be fair it played to a rousing reception from the invited crowd. (Weinstein plays a U.S. release in August.)

Venezuelan director Jakubowicz, whose last feature was the well-received crime drama “Secuestro Express” 11 years ago, is an action-oriented director who would not normally be the type to bring a film to Cannes, and “Hands of Stone” is as thoroughly conventional as anything that has played on the Croisette this year.

It’s a by-the-numbers biopic, jumping through Roberto Durán’s Greatest Hits (quite literally, in this case) with the requisite flashbacks, lots of montages and plenty scenes underlining how Durán’s hardscrabble background from the streets influenced the fighter he became, and how his career was inextricably tied to the political tensions between Panama and the U.S.

And it culminates, naturally, in Durán’s two fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, played by Usher with some smooth moves and almost enough muscles to be convincing.

Ramirez is persuasive as Durán and De Niro is fine as his longtime trainer, though he’s saddled with speaking in bromides and delivering a fair amount of clunky voiceover exposition.

“When you lose your head,” he explains at one point, “you lose the best part of your body.” No, that’s not meant to be a joke.

The fight scenes, by which many a boxing movie is judged, are serviceable: Jakubowicz uses lots of cuts and speeds things up while punches are being thrown, then shifts to slow-mo when they land, then rinses and repeats.

It’s a far cry from De Niro and Scorsese with “Raging Bull,” of course, but it also doesn’t deliver a punch or twist the genre the way “Creed” did last year, or the way the fight scenes in Weinstein’s own 2015 boxing movie, “Southpaw,” did.

Still, De Niro and Durán and Jakubowicz and Weinstein all basked in enthusiastic applause when the movie ended. It’s Cannes, Bobby and Harvey are still in the game and a former champ was on hand — what’s not to celebrate?

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