HOFFA (1992) Dig This One Up for Another Look HOFFA (1992) Dig This One Up for Another Look
I love Danny DeVito’s Hoffa. I couldn’t give two busted axles how historically inaccurate it may be. Whether you like this film or not,... HOFFA (1992) Dig This One Up for Another Look

I love Danny DeVito’s Hoffa. I couldn’t give two busted axles how historically inaccurate it may be. Whether you like this film or not,  you might have motor oil on the brain if your views of modern day labor unions sway your feelings for this film. For what it’s worth, I think when Hoffa began to become a prominent member of the Teamsters, unions were needed in America to protect the “working man.” The fact that Hoffa made deals with organized crime to help the union’s cause is almost irrelevant. Hoffa seemed like a man that would have formed alliances with marauding Visigoths if it would have given the Teamsters the upper hand—or tire iron—against management.

Big business is dirty business and all those heavy hitters are about as civil as wild boars gnashing at each other in fields of shit. Nice guys need not apply. You’re a nice guy, go join the minstrel show or work for the Salvation Army. You want to fight for the everyman, you may have to crack a few skulls or get your jaw caved in by management’s hired goons. DeVito shows dilapidated loading docks and cold factory yards almost as 20th Century re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings, replacing steel helmets and swords with billy clubs and wool caps.

At its center, David Mamet’s screenplay is about two men who become friends. Jimmy Hoffa, played by Jack Nicholson, coaxes himself into Bobby Ciaro’s (Danny DeVito) truck one winter’s night in Detroit. I love the cadence of the dialogue and the typically raw Mamet language in Hoffa. The characters have world weary wisdom that one earns from building calluses on their weathered hands. There are no dainty paper cuts here, or recited scripture from expensive schoolbooks in warm office buildings. You learned what you know because it walked up to you and knocked you on your ass. You got up off the frozen ground, drank strong coffee and went back to work.

Hoffa is a man’s movie. There is nary a woman character in the whole flick. There’s a few hookers and some showgirls, a secretary or two, but nothing substantial.  We briefly meet Hoffa’s wife in a few scenes. Nicholson—in a really good performance—shows the audience he loves the broad, but there is no romance at all. It’s almost like he acquired his wife for paying his union dues.

Nicholson is very believable as Jimmy Hoffa. He looks and acts like a driven and corrupt union official. One would guess there isn’t much time for pushups and sit-ups when you were required to be up all night negotiating with cheap-ass management, or making back alley deals with shady mobsters. You’re probably not eating too many vegetables when you are being hounded in front of Congressional hearings by Robert Kennedy. Boiled meat and potatoes seems like the food of the prosecuted. One of the best scenes of the movie shows Hoffa and Kennedy squaring off in Kennedy’s office. Hoffa is hilariously blunt, profane and insulting to the entire Kennedy clan in the exchange. Perhaps it mirrors the way some Americans feel about politicians today? Honestly, it seems that Jimmy Hoffa and Trump have similar qualities. Take that and run with it if you will. I just dig this flick, man.

Nicholson might be a little less like “Jack” in this then most of his other roles during this time period. I want to say his Hoffa is more nuanced than his Mr. Jack Napier or Colonel Jessup.  We do get to witness a couple of incredibly entertaining outburst of rage. One against Frank Fitzsimmons, played by the late, great JT Walsh. I actually think my mother yelled at me like that a few times when I was a kid. I remember this one time I told my fifth grade art teacher to shove it. She didn’t like my dinosaur drawing. I actually didn’t believe she had the nerve to call my mother. I quickly learned she had the gumption when I got home from school. Tarmac got his little asphalt spanked that day, I can tell you.

The second comes when Hoffa forcefully informs his mob buddy, played by a very good Armand Assante, that he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. We all have moments like this in our lives, for better or worse. Assante has some really entertaining hand gestures in this one. I get a kick of just watching his body language in the pivotal deer hunting scene. Good stuff.

DeVito is just fine as Bobby Ciaro, even if it is a little hard to believe the pint-sized star as a tough guy, willing to pull a gun and smack around a nightclub owner with mob connections. Robert Prosky is entertaining in a small  but important role as Billy Flynn. His character seems to be the lynchpin for Hoffa and Ciaro’s friendship. Listening to DeVito recount Flynn’s fate in a bar is one of the film’s best scenes, Mamet’s old school dialogue on full display. It’s like listening to your grandfather spin yarns about his time in the service.

DeVito does a great job directing Hoffa, using artistic flourishes that one might not expect from a foulmouthed Frank Reynolds. I especially loved the repeating reflection in a bar’s men’s room, always a good place for drunken poetry and macho posturing. The film looks fantastic.  The period recreation is wonderful. There are outdoor scenes that appear to be filmed in a studio, the backgrounds looking especially as if they were constructed by union workers. They give the film a surreal and old Hollywood quality that fits the film well. I especially loved the petite hunting cabins.

One quibble I have with the film is the plot device of Hoffa and Ciaro waiting at the truck stop where he went missing from in 1975. It gives the filmmakers a way for the characters to recall their life together and move the story along like a truck on a Detroit highway. I just wished they didn’t attempt to explain what they thought happened to Hoffa. I would rather the mystery remain. It’s a small gripe, however.

Though it has been over twenty years, I remember Hoffa to be a commercial flop that garnered mixed reviews. I think I have that memory right. Whether you like Hoffa as much as me, I think DeVito deserves credit for making such an ambitious film about one of the twentieth century’s more polarizing figures in America. Regardless of what you think of Hoffa the man, his life made for an interesting story.

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Imprisoned on the overtaxed, overpopulated and overpriced fortress of Long Island, Tarmac492 seeks refuge in the pop junkyard of his brain. He enjoys books, film, television, music and a good drink, or seven every now and again. Beautiful women love being "friends" with him and they find his useless knowledge mildly diverting. Tarmac492 hopes to move to Tierra del Fuego where he can waste away--blissfully drunk and anonymous--at the end of the world.

  • Stalkeye


    Damn this is professional writing, Bro-tar! Now once again, you convinced me to watch a film based on your review. (Blue Ruin being the first!)

    ” It’s almost like he acquired his wife for paying his union dues.”


  • Stalkeye

    Imagine if both Jack and Danny had appeared in the first Tim Burton Batman film as Joker and The Penguin respectively. Missed opportunity there.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Tim Burton actually shows up as a man in a coffin at a wake.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Thanks mang!!! I love this one. You can stream this shit on Amazon. Almost finished with Season One of Banshee. Good stuff. Just saw Procter and Hood throw down the warehouse. I thought the better fight was Hood’s love against that Russian goon!!! Wow, that was some bloody shit!!!!

  • Stalkeye

    Cool! I’ll look into it since I have an Amazon Prime account. As for banshee, wait till you see Season 3 or at least the Season 2 finale!! Shit gets more and more real!

    Seriously, S you are another excellent writer and can run circles around the douches at AICN. Look at thi Shit and tell me what you find wrong with this headline. I dares ya!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7830c02062d5b07054025c6102b1e75ffd78706c9bbfe6df395b689d2c5029f6.png

  • Stalkeye

    No Shit! Damn, what a coincidence after I had mentioned him.

  • I_am_better

    I watched this for the first time last summer. Actually as a double-feature with “F.I.S.T.”, which is also kinda based on Hoffa. I will say that this one was MILES better.

  • Tarmac492.1

    The only time I heard him called Martin Luther the King was in Coming to America from those old barber shop dudes, but I’m not a scholar lol!!! It just is written wrong. There should be a “playing” or something in there. Vintard is an insult to Harry, almost. Thanks, as always, for the kind words!!

  • Tarmac492.1

    Lucas Hood needs to be in more stuff when Banshee is done. Also, Matt Servitto has had a nice career on these cable shows, Sopranos, Brotherhood, and Banshee.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Never saw F.I.S.T. I like the way this film looks, alot. And who can hate the Mamet dialogue? DeVito is a talented dude. Maybe even a tad undervalued.

  • I_am_better

    Yeah he’s a damn good director actually. It’s a pity he hasn’t done more of it

  • Stalkeye

    Forgot Matt was in Brotherhood. That was a good series that got cut way too short. I was like WTF is that all? Same with Copper! The Irish themed shows get no love Boyo. LOL It’s only a matter of time before Peaky Blinders get shitcanned as well.
    I was pissed that i didn’t get to run into Antony Starr at the NYCCC. he showed up on Friday, we went on Saturday. Motherfuck!!!

  • Stalkeye


  • IMDb says he’s gonna direct a post apocalyptic thriller set in Russia called St. Sebastian but I can’t find any news on it since 2012. =(

  • I_am_better

    No luck with financial backing, I guess… :/

  • Tarmac492.1

    what about a really dark Always Sunny Feature film?

  • Tarmac492.1

    I really liked Brotherhood, Jason Isaacs is the shit.

  • That’d be cool, though I don’t know how much darker they could get and still be the same show, lol.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Not crazy dark. It is pretty dark sometimes, though.

  • Always thought this was vastly underrated and one of nicholson’s best performances. Certainly the best in the last 25 years.

  • Great movie, although I did not quite get it when I saw it as a youngster, as well, I was too young. Hell, now I have to watch it agin.
    Well done review!

  • I say Hoffa is still miles above Trump, connections to crime or not.

  • Tarmac492.1

    I think Trump has better hair.

  • Tim R.R. Something

    I really liked it. History was not tidy.

  • ErnestRister

    This, Matilda, and his sexcapades ruined his directing career. He was red hot after Throw Momma From the Train and War of the Roses. Didn’t last long.

  • Sagamanus

    They had to leave the ending open to speculation otherwise it was becoming too conspiratorial. Not that that would be a problem, but he was looking for an Oscar, which he didn’t get.

  • Sagamanus

    I have to see this film again anyway.

  • Tarmac492.1

    agreed.,though it may be oscar bait it showed devito as a real talent