Hands of Stone tells the story of how the legendary Roberto Duran and his celebrated trainer Ray Arcel changed each other’s lives. From 1964 through 1983, in the heart of the golden era of boxing, the film explores the true life tale of Duran’s infamous rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard. Two time Academy Award® winner Robert De Niro stars as legendary trainer Ray Arcel, a Jew from Harlem who became the first boxing trainer to be elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Golden Globe Best Actor Nominee Edgar Ramirez stars as Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran. The son of an American Marine who has an affair with a local girl while occupying Panama, Duran grows up with the will to avenge his nation’s pride. He fights the top American boxers in the most important arenas in North America. Next to him, Ray Arcel, an American, gives intelligence and strength to his rage, teaching him technique and strategy ultimately leading Duran from rise and fall to redemption.
Hands of Stone was shot in Panama City and New York over a period of 65 days. With a 300 person crew and 15,000 extras, Hands of Stone is not only the biggest film ever created in Panama but also the Latino Movie with the widest US release in history. This all became possible when the film was approved in the national congress of Panama as a National Interest Project. A special fund was then created to support the film and the entire nation helped in making it possible to shoot. Every department head is Latino except for the Fight Choreographer and Wardrobe Designer.
The filmmakers used CGI to recreate all the stadiums in the film, building virtual locations that include New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Montreal and Panama. The following were all shot in Panama City: the Montreal Olympic Stadium, where they used a baseball field with the same dimensions, Madison Square Garden, where they used an arena called “The Roberto Duran,” and the New Orleans Superdome, where they used an abandoned U.S. Military Plane Hangar. ONER VFX, an Argentinean VFX Company famous for the stadium in the film “The Secret in Her Eyes,” is responsible for recreating all of the stadiums on top of each location.
All of the boxing fights in the film were choreographed to be identical reenactments of the originals. Sugar Ray Leonard was among the people who trained Usher for the role while Roberto Duran and two of his son’s helped in training Edgar Ramirez. Robert De Niro and Usher spent a month and a half living in Panama for the film.
Robert De Niro came on board early in the process and worked closely with director Jonathan Jakubowicz on the screenplay. They first met because De Niro liked Secuestro Express, Jakubowicz’s first film. He also liked the screenplay for Hands of Stone but he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it because “he couldn’t hear Ray Arcel’s voice. Jakubowicz and De Niro then met multiple times with Stephanie Arcel, the widow of Ray Arcel, and were able to capture the essence and the voice of the legendary character. De Niro had met Arcel and Duran many decades before when Duran was the world champ and De Niro was preparing for Raging Bull. Ray Arcel made a big impression on Mr. De Niro because “he spoke like a Harvard Professor, not like a typical boxing trainer”. He also liked Duran a lot and they played a softball game together, USA vs Panama, in Central Park.
The entire Duran family acts in the film. Robin Duran (Roberto Duran’s son), who is also an Executive Producer of the film, plays his uncle Pototo. The real Felicidad Duran plays the nurse who delivers Felicidad’s babies in the ER (Felicidad is played by Ana de Armas).
David Arosemena, the boy who plays young Roberto Duran, was cast through the Nuevas Generaciones Foundation from El Chorillo, which helps get kids off the streets. David’s mother had abandoned him 5 years prior and his dad is a construction worker who works 12 hours on night shifts while supporting 6 kids. The day he was chosen, it was discovered that not only does he live on the same street in El Chorrilo that Roberto Duran lived on, but he was also born on the same day, June 16. His mother and father reunited after he started working on the film and are trying to become a family again. The filmmakers have helped in creating a better lifestyle for David and his family. Prior to him being cast, his family didn’t have any furniture and their entire family of 6 had no choice but to sleep on the floor. The filmmakers worked to furnish his whole apartment and enroll him in school as well as help him get a scholarship to continue to provide opportunities for education in the future. He will continue to get a check for his payment for the film every month until he is 18 years old.
Israel ¨Bumaye¨ Duffus, the boxer who plays Davey Moore, was discovered in a Panamanian Boxing Gym by the Director. He got picked up by the boxing choreographer and became a professional boxer in the USA after the film.