Release Date: August 26, 2016
Directors: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Writer: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Cast: Usher Raymond, Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, Ana de Armas, Pedro Perez, John Turturro, Ellen Barkin, David Arosemena, Yancey Arias, Drena De Niro, Ilza Rosario, Anthony Molinari
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes
Production Company: Fuego Films, Epicentral Studios, La Piedra Films, Panama Cinema, Vertical Media, Large Screen Cinema Productions, The Weinstein Company
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama
Language: English, Spanish
Country: Panama, USA
Budget: $20,000,000 (estimated)
What a great film! It navigated multiple decades seamlessly. The movie spans the life and career of boxer, Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez, Joy), from 1964 to 1983. It even spends a little time in the 50’s when it shows legendary boxing trainer, Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro, Goodfellas), being forced out of boxing by the Mafia.
Duran’s Panamanian pride oozes out of the film, emphasized in scenes that give brief history lessons of the Panama Canal and scenes that make you feel like you are actually in Panama! The Panama Canal situation, coupled with Duran’s absent father being American, fostered some America bashing throughout the film.
The film did a phenomenal job of making me root for a young Duran fighting for survival, but not just for himself. Duran was truly a giver from the beginning, providing mangoes not only to his siblings, but to his friends. “What’s mine is yours.” And after success as a boxer, he invited what seemed like the whole community to his home for food and fun. His wife, Felicidad (Ana de Armas, War Dogs), even commenting at one such gathering that he had already spent $100,000, assumedly on giving to those in need. But when Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV) enters the film, Duran’s character takes a turn for the worse, starting with disrespecting Sugar Ray Leonard’s wife, Juanita (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Underground). And then after beating Sugar Ray, Duran is drinking, partying, cheating, and grossly disrespecting a childhood friend. It’s as if he’s become a different, unrecognizable person. I found myself actually despising the character and wondering how I could continue to root for him for the next half of the film. In fact, I wondered if they were just going to transition the film to make it about Sugar Ray. But just as I was about to give up on Duran, it took scheming by Duran’s manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades, Safe House) to make me rethink how I felt about Duran.
Eleta, a wealthy man who became Duran’s manager, lied about receiving Duran’s consent and signed Duran up for a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard with an unreasonable amount of time for Duran to train and get back in fighting shape. Arcel told Eleta how wrong he was for putting Duran in that position and pointed out that Duran was not driven by the money. Rather, he was driven by the “win.” Arcel went on to say that Duran had to fight his whole life, and he willed himself to where he was from where he started. He deserved the right to rest, eat, and do what he wanted now that he finally could. And Duran said just as much, upon learning he had no choice but to fight in the rematch essentially against his will, despite preferring to be content and enjoy his comfortable life over the $8 million for the rematch. As he began to reflect on how even after now having some wealth, he is still not in control of his own life and is being forced to fight to make an already wealthy man wealthier, I began to feel his pain and frustration. I was reminded of the young Duran we were introduced to in the beginning of the film, the Duran I was rooting for, and he was once again in my good graces. He wasn’t perfect, including drunkenly chasing down Felicidad some time after the infamous “no mas” forfeit of his second match with Sugar Ray, but the film did a wonderful job of reflecting the complexities of his character; flaws and all.
Ramirez, Raymond, and De Niro did an excellent job, as expected! In preparation for Raging Bull, De Niro actually met with the real life Arcel and Duran, who was the reigning world champ at the time. De Niro certainly did them proud, as did Ramirez and Raymond. I was also impressed by the set! CGI was used for recreating all of the stadiums, including the Montreal Olympic Stadium, New Orleans Superdome, and Madison Square Garden; which were all shot in Panama! And the fight scenes were excellent, as well, using choreography that mimicked the original fights, with help from Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran!
I would, however, make a couple of changes. The sex scenes can go. They added nothing to the film, and to some extent I think momentarily took away from the film. Also, I would probably change the delivery of some of Arcel’s background story. Given the small amount of time given to Arcel’s individual story, it almost seemed distracting when the film tried to focus on Arcel’s story from time to time. I get why they had the scenes they had though. They introduced us to Frankie Carbo (John Turturro, O Brother Where Art Thou?) in a scene from the 50’s when the Mafia forces Arcel into retirement and bring him back when Arcel begins to train Duran 20 years later. Carbo then comes back into play later when Arcel reaches out to him to help setup a fight for Duran post-“no mas.” And the Mafia’s role in the boxing world also comes up during a discussion between Arcel, Eleta, and Don King (Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards). So maybe the film is using Carbo to touch on the Mafia’s presence in the boxing world more so than to provide background on Arcel’s story, though making the first trainer to be elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame retire for 20 years of his 70-year career with over 2000 fighters is certainly a huge reflection of the Mafia’s presence in the boxing world.
The other background story of Arcel shared in the film was the reunion with his daughter, Adele (Drena De Niro, Joy), from his first wife; whom his current wife never knew existed until they received a call that she was in the hospital after a heroin overdose. And yes, Drena De Niro is Robert De Niro’s daughter in real life too! For a great deal of the film, after we learn about Adele, I was confused about why so much time and detail was dedicated to this subplot when nothing else seemed to come from it. I mean we had the late night phone call from the hospital picked up by Stephanie Arcel (Ellen Barkin, This Boys Life), who briefly went back and forth with the hospital before hanging up believing they had the wrong Ray Arcel; recall he never told her about his daughter with his first wife. She doesn’t realize the hospital had the right Ray Arcel until he kept asking questions about the call and proceeded to get out of bed after learning Adele was in the hospital. Then we have the scene where they go to see Adele in the hospital, and Ray explains why he thought it was best to give the child to his in-laws after his first wife passed away. So we got all of that, and then Adele and her story line was pretty much gone! That is until Duran asks Ray to train him for a fight to redeem himself after his loss to Sugar Ray in their rematch. Arcel says he is retired and cannot train him, and upon getting off the phone he seeks advice from his wife who tells him to make the decision based on who he feels needs him the most. Arcel then goes into the next room where Adele is sleeping, and it is clear his choice has been made. But I wonder if there was not a more succinct, and less distracting, way to explain that Arcel did not train Duran for his fight after his loss to Sugar Ray, because he chose to care for his adult daughter who he had abandoned long ago.
Though I wonder if the filmmakers wanted us as the audience to realize the irony in Arcel being a father-figure of sorts to Duran, whose father abandoned him, when Arcel himself had also abandoned his own child! I’m not sure the film actually made the connection within the film itself, not with the characters at least, but the film certainly laid it out there for us as an audience to make the connection.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film and recommend you check it out when it hits theatershttp://blackmediareviewcollective.blogspot.com/