Starring: Edgar Ramirez, Robert DeNiro, Usher Raymond, Ruben Blades, Ana De Armas, John Tuturro, Ellen Barkin, Jurnee Smollett Bell, Yancey Arias, Drena DeNiro
Directed By: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Plot: Chronicles the true life story of legendary boxer Roberto Duran (Ramirez) from his childhood in Panama, to his rise and fall and rise again as a title contender. DeNiro plays his trainer, Ray Arcel, a legend in his own right, and Usher plays Sugar Ray Leonard, his greatest rival.
What Works: Aside from some well shot fighting sequences, the only reason to watch this film are the strong performances from Edgar Ramirez and Robert DeNiro. Ramirez is pretty great here, but its really DeNiro who steals the show. It’s one of his best performances probably in the last ten years. It’s a lot like Stallone’s performance in Creed, but if Stone was a sequel to Raging Bull. It’s a vulnerable, established performance from DeNiro. Ramirez really does some terrific work as Duran. Most of the supporting cast do good work too.
What Doesn’t Work: The narrative is a bit of a mess, seeming somewhat directionless at times. There’s nothing really special here in terms of breaking out of the traditional “boxing movie” mold. The film is also too long for its own good (even though it runs under two hours), simply because it has no idea how to be interesting. I was bored for at least half the film. There’s also some bad acting afoot. I didn’t think Usher was nearly strong enough to carry Sugar Ray, and this is now the second film I’ve seen with Ana de Armas, and I am now convinced she lacks the talent and gravitas needed to be a film actress. She was weak in War Dogs, but she’s way in over her head here. I’d compare her to Amber Heard, who has somehow managed to continue to find work, despite having only a marginal sliver of talent (which she’s only acquired after having been in so many films). Armas is one of the worst talents Hollywood has shoved down our throats in recent years.
Final Word: So just how much do I allow the performances of DeNiro and Ramirez to weigh in on my final score? That’s the challenge. If this film didn’t feature them, it’s probably a D+ film. But that film is elevated because their performances are worth watching, DeNiro’s in particular.
Final Grade: C-