Hoffa (1992) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong language and violence
Running Time: 140 min.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Armand Assante, J.T. Walsh, John C. Reilly, Kevin Anderson, Robert Prosky, Natalia Nogulich
Director: Danny DeVito
Screenplay: David Mamet
Review published March 23, 2004
Jack Nicholson's (A Few Good Men, Batman) performance is the spotlight here, and probably the biggest reason why Hoffa, Danny DeVito's (The War of the Roses, Duplex) ambitious but mostly disconnected biopic about the controversial union leader, Jimmy Hoffa, The film follows Hoffa's rise from out of nowhere to build up the nation's most influential labor union, The Teamsters. During the rise and fall, Hoffa was suspected of associating with mobsters and struggled to clear his name as a communist, while trying to maintain control of his organization, even during a prison stint.
As written by David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross), Hoffa is true story only in essence, with many of the characters existing only for purposes of dramatic license. It wasn't necessary, as the life of Hoffa would probably be fascinating enough on its own, and while there are some genuine moments of interest here, as envisioned by DeVito, this is a flashy but empty experience that probably raises more questions about the motivation of the man than it answers.
Still, there's enough to like in this production for Hoffa to be mildly recommended for the curious. DeVito reunites with cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (Body Double, Mission: Impossible) to create a unique, dark look to the film, which lends a grittiness to the story that works well with Mamet's pulp writing style.
And of course there is the great performance by Nicholson, who is commanding in a terrific portrayal of Hoffa, and for fans of Jack, you will applaud. Hoffa is far from perfect, but the good points are just enough to make this rather longish biographical drama worthwhile. Just remember that this is a biopic meant more to entertain than to give us a realistic glimpse of this enigmatic man that had a lot going on behind the scenes that we will never know about.
©2004 Vince Leo