In the 1992 big screen adaptation of the story of Jimmy Hoffa, Jack Nicholson stars as the legendary teamster president. Danny DeVito directs and also plays Hoffa’s confidant Bobby Ciaro, a fictional character that is based on a combination of Hoffa’s real life friends. The screenplay is by David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glenross). While the story is based on Hoffa’s real life, Mamet and DeVito added embellishments to enhance the melodrama. It’s called a movie for that reason, it’s not a documentary.
One thing that film fans will notice is DeVito’s love for purely cinematic storytelling, in which he brings to mind such visually flamboyant directors as Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian DePalma. DeVito pays homage to such classic films as Citizen Kane (1941) and uses the camera and editing to weave many artistic flourishes throughout the epic frame of the story which spans from the 1930s (the first meeting between Hoffa and Bobby is both comical and poignant) to 1975. Jack Nicholson‘s portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa features his most surly, angry qualities as an actor. You can’t help but think Jack had a great time with this character down to his prosthetic nose! While Hoffa certainly doesn’t come across as a likable guy, you can see his convictions and loyalty to the teamsters union was his main focus and that drove him to be extremely fierce and defiant in the face of adversity.
Danny DeVito’s Bobby Ciaro is Hoffa’s sidekick and acts a cinematic voyeur into Hoffa’s life. He watches on as his friend rises through the ranks from a scrappy union organizer to being a furious force to be reckoned with as teamster president. During his life, Hoffa brought on the wrath of many detractors most notably Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In this film, Kennedy (Kevin Anderson) is shown through Hoffa’s point of view and comes across as an instigating, ignorant snotnose. The verbal battles between Hoffa and Kennedy in this movie are simply hilarious. The seething animosity the two powerful men had towards each other is a highlight of the story.
What really happened to Jimmy Hoffa remains a mystery. Mamet and DeVito use historical facts and start from where Hoffa was last seen (a roadside eatery) then take their own path and construct an interesting cinematic conclusion on what may actually have occurred in the final hours of his life.
Hoffa is an engaging, artistic work of cinema that showcases excellent direction by Danny DeVito, a solid screenplay by David Mamet and another memorable performance by Jack Nicholson. The supporting cast features such great character actors as John C. Reilly, J.T. Walsh, Bruno Kirby and Armand Assante. DeVito and Nicholson first worked together in Milos Foreman’s classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 (coincidentally the year Hoffa disappeared). Hoffa was a really nice reunion project.