I am Duran review: great, but not perfect
Craig Scott reviews 'I Am Duran', the Roberto Duran documentary released this week on Blu-ray, DVD and via digital download...
The resplendent coastline of Panama City offers a beautiful, modern take on a troubled nation. Emerging from the streets after battling for food and providing for his family at the age of only five, one of the greatest fighters in boxing's rich history has told his story through the newly-released documentary 'I Am Duran'.
The first thing that jumps out when watching the film is the long list of red carpet-worthy names, offering praise and sharing stories. Duran, commonly referred to as 'Manos de Piedra' or 'Hands of Stone', pops up throughout, looking content and happy at the re-telling of his storied career. We jump from legendary broadcaster Larry Merchant, who tells us that when the Panamanian fights "something is going to happen", to esteemed, if not self-indulgent writer Springs Toledo who labels Duran, "a product of want".
Covering the construction of the Panama canal and the riots that plagued the country during their long-running dispute with the United States, we are offered a glimpse into 'El Cholo's' world. The violence, the looting and constant protests must have instilled a sense of survival in the young boy. Panama now, as shown in the opening credits, vastly differs from the dangerous suburban warzone highlighted in the film's use of old news footage.
One particular clip, played from the heart of Panama's civil unrest, shows a young female protestor, with pain and anger painted across her face. Her words seem transferable to Roberto's career between the ropes:
"We have our dignity. We do not care if we die."
The highlights of a young professional Duran irritated me. We were informed of his progress, shown spliced bits and pieces of him beating Ken Buchanan and other early bouts, but it seemed the film relied on these clips to fill spaces between dialogue. I say that because the same grainy, black and white clip was shown repeatedly. It wasn't great quality - of course it was quite cool - but to repeat it seemed unnecessary.
As 'I am Duran' rumbled towards the infamous Sugar Ray Leonard rivalry, it gathered pace. Cameos from an aged Ken Buchanan and an ever-passionate Mike Tyson allowed the legacy of the Panamanian to ruminate. Tyson described him as an "all around ring marvel", whilst Buchanan still seemed bitter about those low blows. Leonard, however, America's sweetheart, was far more gracious. The benefit of hindsight and a victory in the return leg have clearly softened the Olympic gold medalist.
The entire two-legged affair with Leonard was extremely entertaining. Sugar Ray told stories, Duran made excuses and No Mas reared its ugly head. However, after watching brutal fights only a few hours ago, the word "quit" is still thrown around too often. Duran was full of reasons/excuses, and the documentary captures some lip quivering moments as he attempts to recall his actions on that fateful evening.
Heart wasn't an issue afterwards, of course. The footage of Duran preparing for bouts with Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns is refreshing. In camp, running with his hood up, he again bemoaned the weight cut - despite now campaigning almost two stone above his natural weight. Maybe he should have been more annoyed at red meat and/or red wine.
When all is said and done, Roberto Duran is a special character. Wine, steak or brutality, he consistently entertained the masses. 'I am Duran' uses clips from years gone by and memories of fighters that have left their stamp on the sport. Tyson, Toledo and Co. are damning when discussing his shortcomings, but Roberto Duran remains an icon. Watching his wife, Feliciadad, discussing his big wins and dark losses offers a glimpse into his personal life. Yes, he wandered the streets of Panama dipping in and out of every barrio, but boxing was his only constant.
When the film reaches its conclusion, Duran is challenging the young and fearless Davey Moore, and we are left in the dark. What followed boxing? Of course, once again, Duran defied logic. Beating Moore was incredible. Beating years of insincere fans, beating the clock and continuing to stun his Panamanian audience means that 'Hands of Stone' had etched his name in history.
It seems that director Mat Hodgson chased his love, the story of the boy that knocked out a horse with a left hook. We can't be angry at that. The film is politically charged. It is exciting. Could it have been more refined? Of course. But it tells a story - though not complete - of a man looking to better himself.
What would have Duran achieved without boxing? What would Hodgson have achieved without Duran? The greatest lightweight in history's story almost wrote itself... almost. The rest is handled masterfully.
Dazzler Media presents I Am Duran on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from 28 October
UK Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrXDxTegqJw