Although many viewers may be feeling “no más” to the prospect of another boxing movie, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Hands of Stone (A-) turns out to be stunningly good and one of the most unexpected character dramas of the year. The film is a sports biopic about the career of Panamanian former professional boxer Roberto Durán, and he is fiercely portrayed by Édgar Ramírez in one of those performances that defies every expectation. His brute deconstruction of machismo, his hunger for victory and justice and his nationalistic zest for life seeps out of every frame. The character is often hard to like, and that makes it even more intriguing. Through superb period detail and art direction against a backdrop of a revolutionary time period in Panama paralleling a transformation in the boxing industry through television and sponsorships circa late 70’s and early ’80s, the filmmakers create a soaring narrative that turns the tables for American audiences expecting to root for their native son. Usher Raymond is a delight in a small part as U.S. boxing hero Sugar Ray Leonard, conveying magnanimous authority. Ana de Armas is remarkable as Felicidad Durán, imbuing the spouse role with grace and verve. Magnificent in other supporting parts are Ellen Barkin and Rubén Blades, the latter legend contributing mightily to the soundtrack as well. But it is Robert De Niro who reclaims his mantle as one of the cinema greats as champion trainer and narrator Ray Arcel. He is splendid in the supporting role; and like Ramírez, you can’t take your eyes off him. De Niro’s corner of the ring pep talks with the Panamanian boxer are part inspiration, part confessional and part master class in quiet dignity. Whether you love sports movies or actively resist them, you will find this story – and the style of telling it – captivating.