The film follows the life of Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Durán, who made his professional boxing debut in 1968 as a 16-year-old and retired in 2001 at age 50.
Growing up in Panama, Durán is homeschooled by Chaflan, who teaches young Roberto some vital life lessons. Later, Duran joins a boxing club with Nestor "Plomo" Quiñones as his coach.
As he reaches 20, an American legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel, who nearly lost his life after being attacked by an unknown assailant in 1953 in New York City and is now living with his wife Stephanie, notices Roberto's raw talent and punching power and takes the young fighter under his wing, becoming his coach. Not long after, Durán then meets a student, Felicidad, with whom he later has five children.
After his fights through the 70s and 80s, rising through the divisions with phenomenal success (just one loss) he challenges Sugar Ray Leonard, dubbed as the "Fighter of the Year." However, Durán is disrespectful of Leonard, describing him as a "clown" who tries to "imitate Muhammad Ali" and that "he punches like a girl", and confidently predicts a knock out win for himself.
One night, Durán confronts Leonard in front of his wife and insults him by calling him a "homosexual." The incident frustrates Ray. Durán's hard feelings for Ray, on the other hand seem to stem from his resentment of Americans in general, because he recalls the ill-treatment meted out by the Americans to the nation of Panama, remembering how American troops took over the country by owning the Panama Canal — leading to conflict between both the sides in 1964.
In June 1980, the day of fight between Durán and Leonard in which the venue is in Montreal, Durán wins via Unanimous decision as a Welterweight Champion (148-147, 145-144, 146-144). After the fight, Leonard states that being insulted is a strategy and calls for a rematch with an $8 million purse. At the house party, informed by his manager Carlos Eleta, Durán reluctantly agrees to the rematch but it is impossible for him to prepare for a November fight. Chaflan is later killed after being run over by a truck.
In November 1980, Durán and Leonard face at the ring for the second time, this time the venue is in New Orleans. But in the eighth round, the people of Panama are shocked when Durán gives up by saying "No más" (English: "No more") to the referee, thus Leonard wins via technical knockout (68–66, 68–66, and 67–66).
Upon returning home in Panama, he faces angry protests. Durán tells his wife that he regrets letting them down and needs to go back in the ring in order to regain his popularity and the forgiveness of his fans. Due to this incident, Arcel is retired from his training and tells Durán that Plomo will be his coach. In June 1983, New York City, the day of his fight against Davey Moore, Leonard gratefully meets Durán for the first time since the rematch, saying that he forgives Durán. He tells Leonard that he gives his apology to his wife. At the fight with Moore up to the eighth round, now Leonard is now commentator, Durán won via technical knockout, eventually restores his popularity and pride by the people of Panama.
In the film's epilogue, it states that Plomo was in Durán's side for each fight until his death in 2012; Leonard and Durán remain friends until now; Ray was the first boxing trainer to be elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame and died of leukemia in 1994 after the six-year battle.Édgar Ramírez as Roberto DuránRobert De Niro as Ray ArcelUsher as Sugar Ray LeonardOscar Jaenada as ChaflanJurnee Smollett-Bell as Juanita LeonardEllen Barkin as Stephanie ArcelRubén Blades as Carlos EletaPedro Pérez as Plomo QuiñonesAna de Armas as Felicidad IglesiasJohn Turturro as Frankie CarboEliud Kauffman as Margarito DuranJohn Duddy as Ken BuchananJoe Urla as Angelo Dundee
Production on the film began in December 2013 in Panama. Principal photography was completed in March 2014.
In May 2015, The Weinstein Company acquired distribution rights to the film, with a 2,000 screen commitment. The film was scheduled to be released on August 26, 2016 in 800 theaters before expanding to 2,500 theaters on Wednesday August 31.
Hands of Stone was released on August 26, 2016 and was projected to gross around $2–3 million from 810 theaters in its opening weekend. In its limited opening weekend the film grossed $1.7 million, finishing 16th at the box office. In its second weekend, despite being added to 1,201 theaters, the film grossed just $1.3 million, finishing 20th at the box office.
Hands of Stone received mixed reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 45%, based on 94 reviews, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The site's consensus reads, "Hands of Stone's strong cast and fascinating real-life story aren't enough to compensate for a crowded narrative and formulaic script." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating, the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.