Edgar Ramírez and Robert De Niro were fated to play a boxer and his trainer. In Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, De Niro's full-blooded embodiment of middleweight champion Jake La Motta led to his second Oscar. In Carlos, Olivier Assayas's tripartite biopic of Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Ramírez replicated De Niro's physical journey from lean and muscular to round and soft. Then, De Niro and Ramírez played in-laws in David O. Russell's comedic soap opera Joy. So, their comfortable rapport as Panamanian welterweight Roberto Durán and American trainer Ray Arcel in Hands of Stone, which is now playing at a theater not far from you, feels like a given, not least because Gael García Bernal and Al Pacino were originally attached (they dropped out due to scheduling issues).
Granted, Ramírez, who has three inches on Durán, looks more like a middleweight, but he has the physique of a pugilist. His Durán also has the attitude to insult everyone who gets in his way, from his wife (Cuban actress Ana de Armos, most recently of War Dogs) to nice-guy competitor Sugar Ray Leonard (R&B singer Usher Raymond IV in a persuasive performance). With a more creative hand at the helm, this all might be exciting, except Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowicz keeps things moving along at a middling clip.
If the movie never grinds to a halt, it never takes flight either. It's nice to see some big-screen love for Panama, and the actors (including John Turturro and native Panamanian Rubén Blades) acquit themselves nicely, but Hands of Stone feels more perfunctory than not.