The fascinating story of boxer Roberto Duran is about to hit movie screens in Hands of Stone. In the movie Edgar Ramírez plays Duran, the boxer who came out of relative obscurity to challenge – and ultimately beat – Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 to take the WBC welterweight title from Leonard. When the two engaged in a rematch later that year, Duran was out of shape and famously retreated to his corner, unable to get the advantage on his opponent, and uttered the famous “no mas” that has taken on iconic status since then, though Duran reportedly refutes that’s what he said.
Duran was picked from his Panamanian homeland and trained for years by Ray Arcel, played here by Robert DeNiro. The movie covers Duran’s life from his first fight in 1968 through the heights of his fame, all the while focusing on Duran’s drive to be the best and to rise above the poverty that’s pervasive in his homeland. At the same time it’s about his relationship with Arcel, who as a boxer in his own right for much of the early 20th Century before retiring and becoming a trainer.
Just one poster for the movie. Set against a bright red background we see a black boxing glove as if it’s being raised defiantly in the air. That matches the tone set by the copy point, which reads “No mas. No surrender.” which, of course, echoes not just Duran’s famous (if disputed) phrase but also his overall attitude toward boxing and life. Below the glove, more or less forming the arm that it’s attached to, are the names of the major stars and the title treatment.
The first teaser trailer starts off with Ray Arcel talking about how he’s trained more champs than anyone else. But then the focus shifts to Duran and we see his journey from the slums of Panama to the world stage, with shots of both mixed in with each other. We see Sugar Ray talking on the phone and approaching the ring for their fight and that’s about it.
For a story that’s about Duran’s journey the trailer focuses a lot on DeNiro’s trainer character. That’s not surprising as he’s the big star, but it makes me wonder how the movie will actually be structured, if we’ll be watching the whole thing from Arcel’s perspective.
The second trailer is a lot more cohesive, with a better flow overall and more of the story laid out. We start out as Arcel is explaining how he “discovered” Duran and how he ultimately came to train the fighter. The two have a bit of a clash of styles, but what comes through mostly is that the Duran is passionate about fighting, seeing it as the way to continue distancing himself from the under-privileged, ghetto upbringing he had. We see him take on Sugar Ray Leonard, suffer an unexpected defeat and then have to pick himself up from disappointment and get back on the horse.
This really does lay out the entire narrative arc of the movie. We see Duran as he travels from the slums to the height of boxing fame, be beat by Leonard and mount a come back. We also see a lot of him with his girlfriend (who’s not credited in the trailer because patriarchy), showing that the studio wants to sell all angles of the emotional story that’s being told here. Overall, though, I can’t believe how much of the story outline is on display in this trailer. It leaves little to nothing to the imagination or for the audience to discover once they actually get in the theater. I’ve already seen this movie.
One more very weird trailer was released just days before the movie hit theaters. It sells the movie as being as much about sexy time with the wives/girlfriends of Duran and Leonard as it is about boxing. So it cuts from shots of the fighters training or squaring off at a press conference to them with their significant others, and not just hints of them being intimate but full on sex scenes between the pairs.
I really have to wonder what the logic behind going red-band this late in the campaign was. This reeks of desperation, like the studio saw tracking was weak and so panicked and decided to pull out this particular stop to try and get an audience that’s interested in seeing Usher’s bare ass on the big screen into theaters.
Online and Social
If the movie had a website I can’t find it. What I could find, though, were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that kept sharing videos, links to sweepstakes, information on buying tickets, upcoming cast appearances and other promotional beats.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Some TV spots were run, many of which focused on the core fight between Duran and Leonard, adding select elements like the romantic lives of both boxers, the drama around who’s promoting and even allowing the fights and so on to it to show the audience there’s more than just the action in the ring that’s going on in the movie.
The movie also sponsored a recent UFC fight broadcast, which makes a lot of sense.
Media and Publicity
The movie was announced as one that would receive a special screening at Cannes designed not to be part of the awards process but to build up buzz and sell it to the general audience.
There was a cool feature here in which Ramirez talked about the training regimen he underwent in order to get as close to being an actual boxer like Duran as he could.
Usher was the focus of this feature story, mostly because this is being positioned as his big cinematic break. So he talked about trying to visiting Sugar Ray Leonard to get his blessing, the training regime he undertook so he could move like the boxer and more.
Ramirez made a few press appearances, sometimes with Duran himself, who also turned up at premieres and other events to help promote the story of his life.
I’m just not sure what’s going on with this campaign. It’s all over the place. On the one hand it’s being sold as a prestige drama that tells an inspiring story while on the other hand it’s suddenly being sold as the kind of movie you’d watch on Cinemax at 10:30 in 1988. And through much of the campaign Duran’s story almost seems to take a backseat to that of Arcel. That makes sense because DeNiro is obviously a movie legend while Ramirez is still relatively up-and-coming, but it takes the focus off of the subject of the story and could confuse audiences as to whose story it is we’re watching.
Similar to Ben-Hur last week, which focused almost exclusively on the chariot race, this campaign focuses heavily on the Duran/Leonard fights. It’s understandable since that’s an easy sell to the audience, but my hunch is that much of the movie’s story and drama happens outside the ring as Duran and Arcel navigate their relationship and the politics of the fight business. And much like Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, I’m guessing Usher isn’t in this movie nearly as much as the campaign features him. Let’s see if this connects with audiences at all, especially if that last-minute Hail Mary trailer did anything to move the needle.