Nearly forty years later, the disappearance Jimmy Hoffa still fascinates. Just as this edition of Hoffa was hitting stores, the mystery of what happened to the vanished former Teamster boss was in the news again. In suburban Detroit, the FBI had taken soil samples in a backyard where Hoffa may have been buried. Regrettably, the samples came back negative, and the mystery of what really happened to Hoffa remains unsolved
Given the continuing interest, it’s no surprise that a version of Hoffa’s story made its way to the big screen in 1992. Written by David Mamet and directed by Danny DeVito, the script takes some liberties with Hoffa’s life and disappearance, but still manages to touch on the historical moments that made Hoffa that enduring figure he remains. Major props to Jack Nicholson; while I often feel like he’s simply playing a version of himself his performance as James Riddle Hoffa is one of his best. He simply disappears into the character.
In addition to directing, DeVito co-stars as Bobby Chiaro—a composite of several people close to Jimmy during his lifetime—Hoffa’s right-hand man, provides a window into Hoffa’s public life. While a couple of brief scenes make us aware that Hoffa had a wife and children, the focus remains on Hoffa, the man who would die for the union cause. While the film doesn’t shy away from Hoffa’s affiliation with organized crime and his willingness to play dirty, it’s never made clear why he does the things he does. Is he power hungry, or just willing to do whatever it took to put the Teamsters in the best position possible? Each viewer can decide that for themselves.
Hoffa is Jack Nicholson’s show. He is a bundle of angry tension throughout the film. He plays of the supporting cast very well; clearly knowing what DeVito is going to do at every turn. And his scenes with Armand Assante feel like something explosive could occur at any time; when the inevitable does happen, its pitch perfect and exciting. If you ever want to watch all of Jack Nicholson’s great performances, don’t forget to put Hoffa in the stack.
Presented in the 2:35:1 aspect ratio, Fox has provided a solid 1080p transfer. Fleshtones and colors are accurate and natural. Black levels are nice and provide a nice level of contrast. Film grain is present throughout and image detail is decent (apparently consistent with the filmmakers intentions). There are no digital anomalies to speak of.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround track does the job, but it’s nothing special. Surround effects don’t really come into play often. However, the LFE picks up nicely during explosions and other sound elements that require it.
English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
The following special features are included:
- Danny DeVito provides an amusing menu introduction.
- Audio Commentary with Director Danny DeVito – Danny DeVito’s commentary tracks are always full of interesting tidbits. There’s some great stuff here, including a scene where you can spot a cameo from DeVito’s pal and director Tim Burton.
- Excised Scenes (SD, 5:02) A collection of deleted footage.
- Historical News Coverage of Hoffa (SD, 7:54) News footage of the verbal sparring between Hoffa and Robert Kennedy during the McClellan congressional hearings.
- Personal Anecdotes from Members of the Teamsters Union (SD, 6:36) A short collection of comments from members of the Teamsters Union.
- Special Shots (SD, 14:13) A look at some of the camera tricks used in the film. If I counted correctly, twenty shots are broken down.
- DeVito’s 11 1/4: (SD, 11:02) Essentially DeVito’s production diary, comments/shooting sequences from DeVito, as well as remarks from other actors are included.
- Siskel & Ebert (SD, 4:28) The original review by the two famed critics.
- Discussion After First Script Read-Through (SD, 3:34) An audio-only piece (accompanied by some black and white photos) of a conversation that took place between DeVito, Nicholson, and J.T. Walsh after the first table read of the script. Nicholson didn’t know he was being recorded!
- The Music of Hoffa: A Conversation with Danny DeVito & David Newman (HD, 10:31) DeVito sits down with composer David Newman and they break down the music for some key scenes.
- DeVito’s Speech at the 2011 Teamsters Convention in Las Vegas (HD, 15:16) DeVito’s complete speech given at the 28th annual Teamsters Convention.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:01) The original theatrical trailer.
- Production Gallery A collection of more than 100 behind-the-scenes photos from the production of Hoffa.
- Shooting Script The complete shooting script for Hoffa, including scenes not in the final cut of the movie.
- Booklet: An illustrated booklet containing information about the film and the cast.