Perhaps the most mysterious disappearance of a public figure in modern history is that of former Teamsters’ president Jimmy Hoffa. Theories ranging from mob or government involvement all the way to fantastic “big fish” tales of him being buried under the 50-yard line in old Giants Stadium, are what keep his story so intriguing throughout the decades and retold from one generation to another. But Hoffa’s death is only a morsel of what makes his story worth reiterating.
Based on the true story of legendary union and Teamsters’ president Jimmy Hoffa, writer David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS) and director/co-star Danny DeVito (THE WAR OF THE ROSES) manifest what is likely the clearest and definitive pop culture representation of one of the most polarizing figures in American history. Definite liberties are taken with Hoffa’s life for the sake of great storytelling, but DeVito keeps intact the driving force behind the man who some say rivaled even the POTUS in power.
HOFFA’s greatest success in portraying the life of such an enigmatic man, is not trying to turn over every stone and iron out every wrinkle of what made him tick. This film may be the exception that proves the rule of always including a well thought out backstory and adding in multiple layers of depth to the main character. The fact that Hoffa was a real person and there are already a 101 half-truths about the man’s private and public life that could be used to create an equal amount of differentiating biopics, actually works against making the character transparent. Prudently, DeVito sticks to what people are most interested in about Hoffa, how he practiced his idealism instead of trying to define it so everyone can understand him and create some sort of human connection. Trying to do that would mean taking a greater liberty than pinpointing the exact spot where his remains currently lie.
Now of course writing up this approach of defiant storytelling is one thing, but getting the right cast and crew together to execute it is just as particular a task. There’s probably a single hand amount of phalanges that would compose the list of actors capable of pulling off such a powerful single-dimensional character, and Jack Nicholson (A FEW GOOD MEN) is at the top of it. His ability to cite a page worth of dialogue with his facial expressions alone was essential to DeVito’s tone and flow of the story, along with the minimalist approach to the character’s motivations.
DeVito himself also stars in the film as Bobby Ciaro, an amalgamation of right-hand men that Hoffa counted on throughout his reign. Ciaro is a brilliant tool used by DeVito as the middle man, not just in Hoffa’s business relationships but as the bridge to the audience, creating a pseudo connection that is legitimately void of any personal exposures due to the story being narrated by a third party.
Coming straight from box office triumphs like THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE WAR OF THE ROSES, DeVito had established himself as a serious director, but HOFFA remains to be the “Starry Night” of his career behind the lens. Period pieces are excruciatingly difficult to authenticate, especially when dealing with a time in which millions of people living today actually experienced. The detail must be painstakingly accurate or it will surely be noticed. DeVito accomplished this task with intricate sets that also act as an extension of Hoffa’s personality and the use of a palette that mimics a watercolor look, simultaneously illustrating a time long gone and injecting life into the black and white stock footage in peoples’ minds.
In the end, HOFFA does provide the audience the pay off of a brain branding ending that depicts yet another theory concerning Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. However, the way in which it’s calculated and actually used as a plot device is quite brilliant and distinctly original. With this film, DeVito exhibits that his directorial talents can rise just as high, if not higher, as his acting capabilities and leaves an unforgettable watermark on an ever-evolving story.
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, As mentioned in the intro to the film by DeVito himself, HOFFA received a fresh transfer from the original negatives. This “Filmmakers Signature Series” edition is incredibly sharp and crisp, bringing out all the intricate details of the stunning sets used to recreate the time period. It also retains just the right amount of film grain to maintain the historical relevance.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, The audio too received a brand-new mix, and although this is not the type of film in need of a stellar sound track, clear dialogue and sound effects can never hurt a presentation.
Commentary with Director Danny DeVito: DeVito is interesting to listen to in any interview he does so when he’s giving insight into a passion project, it’s highly entertaining. And insight is what you get on this track, instead of a mere narration of what’s going on in the film you just watched.
Excised Scenes (5 min): Footage deleted from the final film, that may be mildly interesting but you can be assured that DeVito deleted it for good reason.
Historical News Coverage of Hoffa (8 min): A compelling featurette that displays footage of the actual Hoffa/Kennedy hearings. This is extremely interesting to watch because some of it represented in the film and the 1:1 depiction that Nicholson achieves with his portrayal of Hoffa is even more impressive when compared to the man himself.
Personal Anecdotes from Members of the Teamsters Union (6:30): Interviews from real Teamsters who actually worked with Jimmy Hoffa. There’s nothing really groundbreaking in here but it is somewhat interesting to view and listen to the people who knew the real Jimmy Hoffa.
Special Shots (14 min): A featurette on how some of the more difficult and interesting shots were obtained in the film. If intricate camera work and shot design are in your wheelhouse, then you’ll find this fascinating.
DeVito’s 11 ¼ (11 min): A behind the scenes look centering around director Danny DeVito’s comments and method of scene shooting, also featuring some interviews with Nicholson and other actors from the film. This is very similar to the previous featurette but more of a POV from DeVito’s perspective.
Siskel & Ebert (4:30): The original “thumbs up” review from famed movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert back in 1992.
Discussion After First Script Read-Through (3:30): An audio soundtrack of a conversation between Nicholson, DeVito and J.T. Walsh after the first table read and accompanied by black and white set photos. Candid Nicholson is always gold, and even more so when he doesn’t know he’s being recorded, which DeVito points out was the case in this scenario.
The Music of ‘Hoffa’: A Conversation with Danny DeVito & David Newman (10:30): Composter David Newman does an interview with Danny DeVito and discusses his inspiration for the main theme in the film, which has since been used in multiple trailers for other films.
DeVito’s Speech at the 2011 Teamsters Convention in Las Vegas (15 min): An uncut speech given by DeVito at the 28th Annual Teamsters Convention. Not much talk about the film here, this is just more of keynote address for a convention with DeVito expressing how much he supports the unions.
Production Gallery: A collection of still production photographs from the film displaying moments on and off camera.
Shooting Script: Page by page images of the actual script used on set complete with scene directions.