“I Am Duran” Review:
Author’s Note: I was given an advance copy of the film prior to its official release on June 4. The opinions expressed in this review are solely mine.
Sports and politics has always been intertwined in some way, shape or form for centuries, but the topic isn’t so openly explored when it comes to documentaries, especially in boxing.
In comes "I Am Duran," a film directed by Mat Hodgson, that focuses on legendary boxer Roberto Duran's boxing career and its impact on his native country of Panama during a time of extreme political turmoil that included a period of heavy tension with the United States. The film has Duran talk about his time growing up in Panama and how the country changed in the 80s alongside Duran's career with interviews featuring the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and key political figures in Panama.
The film opens up with a view of modern day Panama City and pans over to Duran, now in his 60s, talking about being born a fighter and dying a fighter.
That ends up being a major theme throughout the film as it shows not only Duran fighting inside the ring throughout the 1980s but also Panama fighting through political turmoil. The film tried to intertwine Duran’s success and failures inside the ring with Panama’s social and political status during that era.
Certainly one aspect of the film that it performs well are the number of people interviewed for this project. Aside from the aforementioned names, the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Ricky Hatton, Larry Merchant, Bob Arum, Don King, Robert De Niro and many more were also interviewed for the film. One name that definitely stands out, though the amount of screen time is far less than one would assume given how big of a focus he was in certain parts of the documentary, is former Panama ruler Manuel Noriega, whom the film depicts in a negative light based on the opinions of the Panamanian people who were alive during his reign. The key points in Noriega’s interview was his personal relationship with Duran. The film certainly does its job in getting virtually every single point of view on Duran.
Duran’s legendary rivalry with Leonard is touched upon heavily in the film, especially the infamous “No Mas” fight in 1981 that saw Duran quit in the middle of a rematch against Leonard. From that point in the film onward is where the film truly starts to shine as this imperfect hero for the Panamanian people. The film tracks Duran professional and personal downward spiral in the aftermath of the “No Mas” fight and subsequent rise back to prominence.
Through archived film of Duran’s career and the multiple testimonies and anecdotes from dozens of different key figures interviewed throughout the film, you get a sense of how much Duran was an icon in Panama. Duran was not just a voice for his people, but the film portrays him as a living personification of everything that was happening in the country. Whenever Panama was in a rut, Duran’s in-ring success would elevate the country and boost its morale, signifying his importance to its fellow countryman.
As for the overall message that Hodgson wants to get across to viewers through the film is how one person can have such a profound impact on so many people through sport alone.
"For me, sport and heroes are important. That's what we're getting at with this film. He might be a reluctant hero. He might be an active hero, it doesn't matter. People need heroes. Sport is very important in culture and society to permeate beyond the obvious. I would like to think that when the people see the connection between Roberto and his country, for me it's very obvious. He's more interesting because he's sort of a flawed hero, but we need these characters in life. We need these heroes. Kids needs them and adults need them and that's what I hope comes out of this story: hope and inspiration," Hodgson said in an exclusive interview with Fightful.
Also in that interview, Hodgson revealed how the project came together. According to Hodgson, it all started when Hodgson first met Duran while he was making another documentary, this one on Hatton. After hearing more about Duran and Panama during the 80s from his wife, Hodgson got inspired with telling a story that went beyond Duran as a boxer and wanted to tell the story of the Panamanian people from the start.
"Well, what's this random Englishman doing a documentary on Roberto Duran of Panama right? Well, I met Roberto when I was doing a documentary on Ricky Hatton a few years ago and Roberto came into the room and he lit up the room. Obviously, everybody knows who he is, but there was something next level about his charisma and presence that got me thinking, 'This person is a character.' Fast forward a few years and I met my wife, who grew up in Panama and she was talking about Roberto Duran and Panama history and I started putting together the two storylines together in my head. I found the politics really interesting and important to the story and I wanted to do something that wasn't just some sports story and have some other layers to it. I went to Panama, did some research and everybody kept telling me the same thing. They said they went through some terrible things in the 80s and whenever the country was down, Duran would come and pick them up and was their beacon of hope and thar's where it came from," Hodgson said.
The documentary isn’t without its faults, however. It’s main problem, for me, stems from the fact that this is only a 90-minute film. For someone like Duran, 90 minutes is nowhere near enough for a documentary on his career, especially when it comes to his relationship with the Panamanian people. The film tries to cram as much as it can to encompass the entire story, but what we get at times is more of a cliff notes version of the full subject. Though it does manage to touch upon virtually every subplot imaginable in this type of documentary, tt doesn’t give certain topics the due amount of time as it needed.
Ultimately, the film does about as well as one could expect from a documentary on this topic. Cinematically, Hodgson was able to create some outstanding moments, especially one moment in which Duran and Leonard were speechless while they were interviewed during a key moment in their rivalry. The film is a solid entry that is the saga of Roberto Duran and anybody that is interested in sports stories that go past the playing field will certainly enjoy this film.
- From The Web