Robert De Niro -- the Raging Bull himself, now aged from boxer to trainer -- is introduced in Hands of Stone bathed in Madison Square Garden's overhead spotlights, more the image of a reigning champ than the promising fighter whose American debut his character Ray Arcel has come to see. It's impossible to follow the actual trajectory of the choppily edited fight, so it's only clear just how impressive Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) is supposed to be from the look on De Niro's face. For every punch thrown, there's a reaction shot: a quizzical eyebrow raise, a cocked head left or right. It's like watching De Niro get his eyes checked.
The real Durán's reputation is paradoxical: Nearly every reference source deems him one of history's greatest boxers, but the single fight he's most associated with is his infamous 1980 rematch against Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond), which Durán stopped in the eighth round after clearly getting the worst of it. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz's theory about what happened: Durán was too overwhelmed by flashbacks to struggle on.
The first half sketches adolescent Durán's impoverished upbringing before introducing Ramírez as the grown, swaggering up-and-comer. Arcel gets his own hurried origin story as well: Once a promising trainer, he stopped in 1953 after an attack by mob-connected elements (represented solely by occasional appearances from John Turturro as a red-sauce caricature of a mobster).
In the boxing scenes, a Steadicam busily circles the ring, catching plausible jabs from Ramírez and the equally muster-passing bouncing of Usher, who translates his dance training into an acceptable pantomime of the sport. But the bouts are all muddles lacking sustained choreography or any sense of trajectory.