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Mamet's Hoffa knows the Kennedy family built their fortune out of rum running to a large extent, and he sees no difference between their corruption and his own compromises. At least, Hoffa tells himself, his own deals with the devil serve something larger then his immediate family, they serve the membership of the union. And this was very true, which is why a fair number of Teamsters still swear by the name Jimmy Hoffa. Nicholson's snide asides to his "betters" completely captures the class war basis that motivated the actual man's actions. Anyone who has been through an actual labor dispute and has been witness to the patronizing communications that come through a company eager to crush a union effort knows full well what fired up Jimmy Hoffa, even as we turn aside from the path he took.
The film succeeds because De Vito, Nicholson and Mamet understand what pushed the labor movement forward, and they understand its contradictions. Most important, they understand why those contradictions overwhelmed a man as gifted as Jimmy Hoffa, and this is what makes it better then your average Hollywood drama about labor. Hoffa is a film about working class attitude that gets beneath the usual dismissals of working class concerns, and as such, deserves respect. The powers that be have every legend about their leadership. It's time the working class was allowed legends about its own once again, provided we understand that they are legends, and therefore laden with much myth. The very real larger then life qualities of Jimmy Hoffa, however, make this a film worth more then one critical glance.
In some ways, though, the whole may be less than the sum of its parts. The story is a bit like that of "The Godfather" but without the Mafia mystique. Hoffa starts out good but then -- well, what? Does he go bad? If so, the movie does as good a job of hiding exactly what he did as Hoffa himself did. There is a scene in which he seems to agree to lend money from the Teamster's Pension Fund to "a known Italian." But the scene takes place during a faux deer hunt and is played for laughs. While D'Allesandro (Armand Assante) and Hoffa argue over the terms of the loan, a deer walks up unexpectedly and is ignored by everyone until, finally, DeVito uncorks his automatic and blasts it. When the shots sound everyone hits the dirt.
The scene is amusing but it's distracting too. What WAS that agreement, exactly? Is it illegal for the President of a labor union to lend money to someone else at a profit? Hoffa claims not. And who argues with him but Robert Kennedy, played very unsympathetically as an elitist snot who never worked in his life and is just trying to make a name for himself by bringing Hoffa to court. Hoffa, eventually is convicted and goes to jail. But it is never made clear exactly what he was convicted of. Lending money to an Italian?
Nicholson plays Hoffa pretty straight. He's not a particularly nice guy but he's clever in the way that an alley cat is clever. (Mamet's dialog stays on track.) Yet the director, DeVito, gives him the almost same kind of sentimental treatment that Don Corleone got. I am happy, though, that the movie spared us scenes in which Hoffa's wife sobs and complains that he's so often away from home that she hardly knows him anymore. (Thanks again, Mamet.) There is a fictional but still unnerving assassination scene at the end. Hoffa and DeVito's bodies are dumped atop one another in the back seat of their car. The car is driven up the ramp of a waiting truck and the truck zooms off down the highway towards its unknown destination. Elegiac music swells on the sound track. The image of the back of the truck recedes and dwindles until it disappears down the highway, a setting sun hovering just overhead.
Did Hoffa really deserve this Viking's funeral? I don't know. The movie left me with a lot of unanswered questions, none of them about the performances. A viewer can't help wondering where Hoffa is now. Part of a building somewhere, or an automobile? Or a truck?
In ten years, this film will be a classic!
1. At best, it's a 2-dimensional portrait of the man. An extra 7-10 minutes early in the film could have given us a better understanding of what in his youth made him the scrappy, feisty man he became.
2. Did he have a family life? You'd hardly know it. We see his wife occasionally, but with only one scene of any value. Same for his children...almost nonexistent. A few more minutes could have completed the character sketch.
3. I'm no fan of Bobby Kennedy, but the portrayal of Kennedy here by Kevin Anderson seemed downright childish to me.
Having said that, there's a lot of good things about this film. The first, perhaps, being Danny DeVito's strong portrayal of Hoffa's chief aide over much of a lifetime (although the character is fictional). A strong theme of the film is loyalty, and DeVito portrays that extremely well.
As to Jack Nicholson's performance as Hoffa, it's difficult for me to rate. I am old enough to remember Jimmy Hoffa, and I see glimpses of Hoffa in Nicholson's performance. But that's always a problem in biographical films of people we actually remember. We can look at Don Ameche's performance as Alexander Graham Bell and accept it rather readily because we don't personally remember Bell. But some of us remember Hoffa, and it would be a mistake for Nicholson to do an "impression" of Hoffa, because it would be widely criticized. So, he does an admirable job of not letting an impression get in the way of the story.
DeVito also directed this film, and I have to give him credit for the deft manner in which he handled flashbacks. Generally I think that flashbacks are overused in many films. Here the technique worked very well with very smooth transitions.
Of course we don't really know how Hoffa died and disappeared, but the ending of this film is an intriguing and nifty explanation. Very well done.
If you want to get a sense of Jimmy Hoffa the labor leader, this film will accomplish that. If you want a sense of the whole man, you'll be a bit disappointed. But, the film is an admirable effort.
Can I first say this was strange casting for Bobby Kennedy? It just seems like someone doing a very poor Kennedy impersonation, not a serious attempt to really capture him. Which is unfortunate, given how central his role is. (This film, more than anything, seems to be Hoffa versus Kennedy.) The Nicholson casting is not perfect, either, because it is hard to hide his distinctive voice... but I think he pulls it off ,and the makeup helps.
The Hoffa story is a fascinating one, and one that deserves to be explored on film again. This was 1992, and I write this in 2015. In the past two decades, more memoirs have been written, more government documents released... we need another biopic, and maybe a really serious documentary?
In the context of most commercial movies, which insist on explaining too much or repeating the obvious, Hoffa remains a reasonably detached consideration of the career of a man whose ties to the Mafia not only cost the rank-and-file teamsters millions but also set a pattern for corruption that tainted the entire labor movement. It's a quintessentially American story, for only here did Big Labor become a big business to rival Big Business.
DeVito and the Great Character Development Skeptic neither romanticizie him or try to explore Hoffa outside his own mechanical justification that you have to do it to others before they do it you. Without commentary, in very broad strokes, they authenticate Hoffa's advancement from minor reformer to big-time shark, power-dealer and mob friend.
The movie opens as the edgy, dog-tired Jimmy, convoyed by his committed odd-job guy, conjured character Bobby, waits in a Cadillac in a Detroit cafeteria lot for a rendezvous with an abiding Mafia accomplice. The reminiscences that are the bulk of the film aren't Jimmy's, but the indulgent, diligent Bobby's. He worries about Jimmy's state of affairs, remembering their first meeting in the Depressed 1930s when, one night on the road, Jimmy invited himself into his truck and tried to enlist him for the teamsters. Jimmy was then something of an optimist. As the hours drone on in the lot, Bobby sequentially recalls his way through Jimmy's career.
While Bobby's remembrance is tender, this captivating, hazy biopic sees all coolly. This gives this forgotten '90s drama an indignantly cynical tone that is generally uncommon in American movies. It compels us to decide for ourselves, something that can be infinitely puzzling as well as gratifying. The film proposes there are occasions when one must reason for oneself. It doesn't pose as a docudrama or anything close. It's a skillful work of fiction, rooted in fact, devised with ingenuity and a dependable viewpoint.
DeVito's direction is crammed with overstated kinesics that appear wholeheartedly consistent with Bobby's exceedingly highlighted reminiscences of life with Jimmy. There are numerous striking overhead shots, whether it's a scene of Jimmy incarcerated or a panoramic view of union men wrestling scabs. Simultaneously, DeVito knows when to use close-ups, that is, to divulge character instead of to intersperse dialogue. When the director shows a recalled explosion and fire, they have the massive scope of something recounted in an anecdote told late at night in a favorite dive.
It comes as a surprise, about midway through, to learn that the Teamsters head has a wife and daughter. They appear during a crowd scene. But this film about Jimmy Hoffa has no time to show him meeting his wife, dating her, marrying her, finding their dream house, having a kid. That's about as it should be.
Does the movie grant that Jimmy was an instrument of organized crime? Not by any means. Nor does it quite maintain that Hoffa would take any advantage he could get, anywhere he could, to systematize the drivers and press-gang the bosses. He was a union realist, but what makes this movie so beguiling is that we can never entirely peep the romanticism that should be in there somewhere, no glow of internal principle. Something murky must be driving him on a lonesome, ruthless revenge.
Nicholson is an actor who can echo virtually anything in his face. His intense, volcanic performance is so good as Hoffa because he betrays virtually nothing. When we first see him, the corporal embellishments are striking. He's filled with spite, not optimism. He organizes for the same reason other guys get in bar fights, because it discharges the intense stresses within.
The production is plentiful with period particulars, consecutively in an enduring procession. The truckers' world distinguishes with the world of control occupied by the insiders: The Old World sophistication of the Mafia sociables, for instance, or the rooms where dominant government men dwell. The movie makes its implicit case for union organizing simply by complementing the cabs and roadstops of the drivers with the world of opportunity.
This is an inspired and vibrant piece, but is that sufficient? It sharply divided critics, but for me it is. Others will have valid protests to the ways the film works. This genuinely absorbing piece reveals DeVito as a sincere filmmaker. He extracts the core guise and pitch for this material. Not every director would've been self-assured enough to purely show us Jimmy Hoffa rather than narrating all about him. This is a movie that finds its impact between the lines, in what is unstated.
Danny DeVito directs the entertaining Hoffa, which is told mostly in flashbacks to "the good old days," but some glaring inconsistencies plague the film.
Firstly, there's DeVito's character: Bobby Ciaro, who is doggedly loyal to Hoffa. While played masterfully, Ciaro is ficticious; he's most likely an amalgamation of several real-life characters.
Secondly, the diner scenes where Ciaro is talking to the young truck driver whose rig has broken down. The trucker is having no luck getting his rig repaired until Ciaro intervenes. The trucker is grateful of course, but Ciaro deflects the gratitude to his boss, Hoffa. When the trucker learns that Hoffa himself is sitting in a Cadillac in the parking lot, the trucker is insistent that he thank the former union boss personally. The trucker shoots and kills Hoffa and Ciaro, who tries to defend his boss and friend.
Thirdly, after the shooting a truck pulls up and the Cadillac is driven into the trailer and whisked away. This contradicts fact in two key areas: (1) Only James Riddle Hoffa was reported as disappeared; (2) Hoffa was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix, which was found parked in the lot.
Despite those key flaws, the movie's saving grace is the top-notch acting. Nicholson has Hoffa down pat, right down to his convincing nasally voice and mannerisms. I do not know if Hoffa himself ever said them himself, but two Nicholson quotes stand out:
"Mr. Hoffa, you gonna organize the cops?" "That's nothing! One of these days I'm gonna organize the crooks!"
"I'm gonna do what I gotta do!"
Hoffa, seen by some as an opportunist is played as a hero who justified his less- than-legal actions while Teamsters president as benefiting the working men and women he represents. Hoffa clearly loved the Teamsters. Nonetheless, he was sent to prison in 1967 (his sentence was later commuted by then-US president Richard Nixon,) but many saw the conviction as a case of politicians framing a hero of the working man. One scene, where Hoffa and Ciaro are being transported to the prison and are cheered by a long line of supportive truck drivers exemplifies this.
Still, it's a very good film that suffers from writers taking license with fact. However, I can easily recommend it due to Nicholson and DeVitos' powerful performances.
Unfortunately, the film is an inadequate showcase for Nicholson's talents. The story begins in 1975 on what presumably was the last day of Hoffa's life as he and his pal Bobby Ciaro (Danny DeVito) wait for some people to show up for a meeting at a Michigan roadhouse. They wait a long time which allows Bobby to recall many incidents in Hoffa's extraordinary career as a union organizer.
There are two problems with this. First Bobby, who's supposed to be something of an enforcer, is never credible. Although he's nearly always in view, he never seems to belong. Perhaps that's because he's entirely a creation of screenwriter David Mamet. Barely adequate as a story-telling device, Bobby's unfortunate insertion gives rise to the inevitable, more serious question: how much of this story is true?
If you accept Mamet's interpretation, Hoffa was a victim of a trusted associate, the Government, and the Mob, but foremost a hero because he fought for the working man. Fair enough. But when you watch "Hoffa" you don't really get a clear sense of why all this was so. Motivations are largely absent. The flashbacks pass by but you feel these are merely sketches or outlines, often presented without clear context. Some are believable, others seem to be mere speculation, still others, such as the scenes with Robert Prosky or the enormous riot sequence, implausible. Was Prosky's character real? Did so many people actually die? Ask Bobby, because in many ways it's as much his story as Hoffa's; but as we know, Bobby is pure fiction.
Mamet has been quoted as saying audiences look more for drama than for information. Fine, and who'd want to see Ken Burns' take on the Teamsters. But "Hoffa", for all its huffing and puffing, lacks the drama of Paul Schrader's "Blue Collar" or the better Mob pictures.
Recommended solely for Nicholson's performance.
I am not disappointed, and I still care, not at all about James Hoffa, the man.
Jack Nicholson is one of our great actors, and regardless of all his extra curricular activities, he is a committed and serious craftsman, and his portrayal of James Hoffa is fine craftsmanship.
The story of Hoffa itself may be the least interesting component of the film. The production design is beautiful-a perfect compliment to the words of Mamet delivered by a painstakingly perfect cast.
Should you have the opportunity to view the deluxe laserdisk with the Danny Devito commentary and extra production materials you will be treated.
Not a film for everyone, but I liked it.
This is not to belittle the film's educational value, but I don't think such a complex public figure can be understood if we don't even have some quick glimpses about his past, his background and his family. It's as if Danny DeVito sticked with the public image of Hoffa and didn't give us enough to hook our hearts on outside the Teamster business, which is a pity because Jack Nicholson made the character and gave him such an aura that it genuinely made me curious about the man. Yet, nothing is shared except what he tells his friends, the mob, the journalists, and Bobby Kennedy. I was begging for an intimate moment with his wife, not because "behind every great men, there's a woman" but because men do confess to their wives, share with them the off-the-record stuff, but "Hoffa" is not in the same caliber than, say, Oliver Stone's "Nixon", which is about a no less controversial figure. And I guess I wasn't surprised because I saw the wife in the middle of the film but because she was showed while she was useless plot-wise.
On the other hand, the film tackles its subject in a very serious and entertaining way that I'm asking myself if DeVito or the screenwriters did have enough material to approach the privacy of Hoffa, maybe they didn't, or maybe they had but they didn't have enough time. The film is more trying to answer to the question of Hoffa's whacking than the typical rise and fall, it's more about the way he became an instrument of the mob with a pragmatic view on the ends- justifies-the mean theory, but we never see how effective they are for the Teamsters. I learned more about the rights and the struggle of truck drivers from the underrated film-noir "They Drive by Night" or the thriller "Wages of Fear" than "Hoffa", which is saying a lot because it had to be about trucks too, Ebert said that DeVito showed a man who was all about trucks, he talked and breathed 'truck', well how about showing these trucks in the first place? The film fails providing insights on the character by focusing too much on the controversy; it doesn't help to get enough perspective. Imagine if "Nixon" was only about the Watergate, you wouldn't have known about Nixon AND the Watergate either, DeVito's film lacked focus and scope.
It's interesting that the film was made in 1992, the same year than another and better biopic, Spike Lee's "Malcolm X", the film is three-hour long but takes you from the roots of the leader, when he was a small-time crook to his rise as one charismatic orator. In "Hoffa", we never see him driving a truck, nourishing his heart with socialist ideas and revolting against the system. From the beginning, he's like a politician haranguing the comrades. I take it from granted than what he say is true, but it's not about belief, but empathy, the film is not about making Hoffa a good or a bad guy, but letting the viewer figuring out. If he was bad enough (in the "practical" meaning) to stick with the gangsters when he became powerful, it would be interesting to see how he started as an idealistic man, and it would make the corruption of his morality more interesting. That's what great biopics are about: evolutions, and never in "Hoffa", do we feel that the guy is changing, in bad or good, it doesn't matter, but there's no dynamics whatsoever.
And again, it's a pity because the performances are good, I can't believe Nicholson got a Razzie nomination for this, granted it wasn't the best of his career, but he did bring some energy and passion in the character. But what lacked was a structure, a right choice of episodes that would tell us something about a controversial figure. The film is two-hour and fifteen minutes long, I wouldn't have minded it being much longer if it could enlighten me on the private face of Jimmy Hoffa, we're talking about a character played by Nicholson, who's got a great chemistry with his real-life friend Danny DeVito, the film had the potential, the ambition, probably the budget, the writing was good, but the storytelling not so.
Still, for what it is, it's not wasted time, and the film has a solid consistency in it, and at least, it does something that almost redeems the flaws I mentioned: it ends with the best scene, the most memorable one. In terms of shock and emotion, even though we know the story of Jimmy Hoffa, we don't see the ending coming, and it did left me puzzled and shocked when I saw it for the first time. The film needed more moments like this, but all in all, it's a solid drama.
The film is uniquely told through the eyes of Hoffa's best friend, Bobby Ciaro who is played by Danny DeVito, who also directs the film in his sometimes straightforward, sometimes offbeat style. Telling the story like this makes for an interesting narrative and gives the film a unique sense of style, telling the story of one man through the eyes of another. But what Hoffa really tries to accomplish is just telling the story. It focuses on getting all the details right and every important aspect of the story out there for all to see. What the film lacks is a lot of emotion or passion towards the subject matter. It's an exciting film and plenty enticing, but it isn't a robust dramatic telling of the life of Jimmy Hoffa. This is more of a well made documentary on Hoffa's life than a biopic.
But don't get me wrong. Hoffa does the best it can from a purely storytelling aspect. The story is there and it is alive. It isn't always the most exciting adventure and it drags considerably at times. But it is a high quality film in specific aspects, namely acting and writing. It goes without saying but Jack Nicholson's acting is incredible and David Mamet's writing is superb. These are things that we've come to expect from these two gentlemen and Hoffa shows that they care about anything and everything they do. Danny DeVito also does a fine job in his role and the relationship between him and Nicholson is believable and compelling. Mamet's dialogue drives the film home and gives it its slick tongue and witty cadence. The film stands out in these aspects, but as a summation of all its parts it is nothing more than an interesting little look into the life of Jimmy Hoffa that we can enjoy as an informational piece, rather than a film.
I enjoyed Hoffa but it is another of the many films I see that I wouldn't plan on seeing again. It makes for a good one time watch because now I know more about Jimmy Hoffa and the fascinating story that surrounds him. It's always fun to watch Nicholson act his head off and Mamet write himself to death, and Hoffa certainly delivers these things. It doesn't go much further than that, and it doesn't end up doing much more than hold my attention for a little more than two hours.
The film failed at the box office and did not garner the awards expected. The reason because the film is a honourable failure. There is a script by David Mamet and although there are some great production values its not consistent. There is a great scene where Hoffa is talking to some people in a corridor of a building with big windows. Through the windows you can see a courtyard with a market going on with people going about in period costume. In a costume drama, many other people because of the budgetary concerns would had done it just in a walled corridor.
However you have scenes where its obviously done in a film set and some scenes are obviously staged such as the hunting scene.
The biggest problem is the film does not address the audience outside of the USA who have little or no idea of who Hoffa was. I heard about him as a college student mainly to do with the fact that this a notorious Union leader who is now supporting some bridge under a highway!
During the initial scenes when DeVito's character who is a composite of several real life persons first meets Hoffa, I had no idea when the meeting took place. In the 1930s or 40s or the 50s? When Hoffa takes over the Teamster union and wants some people fired, why exactly did he want this? Who were this people that he wanted fired? As we do not know this people do we care? What exactly did Hoffa do wrong for him to be imprisoned? Getting a shady Italian-American to make money for you via some loans is not illegal surely at that time unless it was actual money laundering. Wikipedia tells me that it was fraud, jury tampering and bribery. The film is called Hoffa yet we know so little about him after viewing the film.
The film is told in flashbacks as Hoffa waits for a meeting in a parking lot of a diner. Again we are not told of the time period of this setting which should be the mid 1970s as that is when he disappeared although the ending in this film leave little doubt what happens to Hoffa.
Its a well constructed film of a man that divides America but DeVito the director needed Mamet to put more detailed in the script so we have a better idea of who Hoffa was.
true hoffa made many bargains with the mob which circumstances required to attain a balance in the bargaining position with management. but of course the kennedy family came up bootlegging and stock swindling, giving them the touch of liberal elegance.
Hoffa's final speech that he brought the workingman into the middle class sums up his entire career.
But you don't watch this film for facts. You watch it for the great performance of Jack Nicholson. You also watch it for the very good performances of Danny DeVito and Armand Assante.
True or not, it was a good story written by David Mamet (Wag the Dog, The Verdict, Ronin) about the rise of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, and his deal with the devil to accomplish his goals.
Fans of Robert Kennedy will not be pleased.
Hoffa organized Teamsters from the Great Depression to 1975. The greatest force driving the labor movement, Hoffa recruited members by " jumping" trucks, organizing meetings, setting up pickets, and even sabotaging businesses. Hoffa fought fire with fire, and his tactics and attitude gained him respect and support. Unfortunately, this would also contribute to his fall. Hoffa began dealing with the Mafia and investing union funds in their businesses. Concern over the size, the violence of the movement, and hatred of Hoffa lead U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Kevin Anderson) to attempt to convict him of embezzling union funds. Hoffa humiliated the Kennedy family during the hearings. By 1959 Kennedy guided Congress in passing union limiting legislation, and Hoffa was successfully imprisoned under the new laws. After his release, Hoffa would meet with the Mafia in an attempt to regain control of the Teamsters. This would be the last time Jimmy Hoffa was ever seen. Written by David Mamet and directed by Danny DeVito, the film drives home the absolute determination and dedication Jimmy Hoffa put into the labor movement. He lives and breathes union. His eyes are filled with vengeance, not optimism. Willing to do business with the Mafia to advance the cause, Hoffa believes he is doing nothing more than the politicians who are trying to stop him. His cause is for a whole class of people, not just his family. The director doesn't get into the Kennedy family issues except as they pertain to Hoffa. Little mention is made of their corruption or involvement with the Mafia, as this would have been a distraction from the driven Hoffa portrayal. The movie spans from the early 1930s to 1975. The special affects, makeup, and settings were excellent. The clothes, cars, guns, cigarettes, and makeup smoothly transitioned the forty year time frame. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa was awesome: the viewer could feel the rage and determination Hoffa felt.
The exclusion of other historical events revolving around his disappearance, and the speculative ending was disappointing, and leaves the viewer with an inaccurate depiction of his disappearance. In reality, Jimmy Hoffa's body has never been located, and he is only presumed dead.
This may be Nicholson at his finest. DeVito also is outstanding in a meaty role. In support as Hoffa cronies are: J.T. Walsh, John C. Reilly and John P. Ryan. Armand Assante is powerful in the role of Carol D'Allesandro a 'big money' man in association with the crafty union leader. I can't praise Nicholson enough; an exceptional actor in a dynamic movie. David Mamet's demise of Hoffa is as good as any imagined.
Danny DeVito brings a lot of epic into the movie. It's a grand costume drama. He brings a lot of visual style. It looks like he threw a lot onto the screen. Some of it is the big performance from Jack Nicholson. He's really the deciding factor on whether to like this movie or not. I can certainly see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, it's an impressive big performance. On the other hand, he's doing only one note. I think it could be improved if they get rid of the make-up. Let Nicholson embody the role. Give him back his facial expressions. It keeps the audience from truly connecting with the character. The general public doesn't know what Hoffa looks like anyways.
But Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito portrayed their characters so well that the movie held my attention from beginning to end. I especially liked the scenes that pitted Jimmy Hoffa against Robert Kennedy.
Also, the ending, the demise of Jimmy Hoffa seemed pure Hollywood, which is to say spectacular and implausible. Everyone wonders about the last hours of Jimmy Hoffa's life and I don't think this film really answers that.