Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Danny DeVito|
|Written by||David Mamet|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Cinematography||Stephen H. Burum|
|Edited by||Robert C. Jones|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$29.3 million|
Hoffa is a 1992 American biographical crime film directed by Danny DeVito and written by David Mamet, based on the life of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Most of the story is told in flashbacks before ending with Hoffa's mysterious disappearance. Jack Nicholson plays Hoffa, and DeVito plays Robert Ciaro, an amalgamation of several Hoffa associates over the years. The film features John C. Reilly, Robert Prosky, Kevin Anderson, Armand Assante, and J. T. Walsh in supporting roles. The film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on December 25, 1992. The film received mixed reviews and grossed just $29 million against its $35 million budget.
On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa and his longtime friend Bobby Ciaro are impatiently waiting in the parking lot of a roadhouse diner. Moving in vignettes from his early years when Hoffa was a Teamsters union organizer who was working to organize the various trucking firms and laundries around Detroit, Michigan, Hoffa's life over the preceding four decades gradually unfolds. In 1935, a young Hoffa approaches a parked truck, inside of which driver Ciaro is taking a nap. Hoffa pitches the benefits of joining the Teamsters and gives Ciaro a business card, on which he has written: "Give this man whatever he needs." A few days later, Ciaro reports to work to find Hoffa attempting to organize the workers. Hoffa blurts out they'd ridden 85 miles together, and Ciaro is fired. Ciaro later accosts Hoffa with a knife, but Hoffa's associate Billy Flynn pulls a gun and Ciaro drops the knife. Ciaro joins the pair in the arson bombing of a laundry whose owner has refused to cooperate with the Teamsters. Flynn is badly burned and dies. Ciaro succeeds him as Hoffa's right-hand man.
During a Teamsters strike, strikers fight with non-union workers and police, Hoffa is taken to a local Mafia boss. Ciaro, who speaks Italian, comes along and translates. An alliance between the Teamsters and the mob is formed. Hoffa meets Carol D'Allesandro, who would become his closest mob ally. Hoffa rises to the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. His illegal activities include the use of Teamster funds to make loans to the mob. At a Congressional hearing, Hoffa is questioned by Robert F. Kennedy regarding his suspicious union activities. A loud and bitter feud between Kennedy and Hoffa grows, especially after John F. Kennedy is elected President and Bobby becomes Attorney General.
Hoffa, on a hunting trip with D'Allesandro, discusses ways to exploit the union's pension fund. Having no paper with them, the plans are sketched on the back of a hunting license. Subsequently, Hoffa is betrayed by a junior associate, Peter Connelly, who testifies at Hoffa's trial. The critical evidence against Hoffa is the hunting license on which the plans to raid the Teamster's pension fund were written. Hoffa surrenders to federal officials and serves time in a Pennsylvania federal prison while Connelly's uncle, Frank Fitzsimmons, takes over as Teamsters boss. Ciaro, also convicted and imprisoned, is freed and immediately begins working for Hoffa's release. D'Allesandro suggests that the Teamsters endorse Richard M. Nixon for President, so that in exchange for Teamster endorsement, Hoffa will receive a presidential pardon.
Hoffa gets out and expects to again run the Teamsters, but learns that one of the conditions of his release is that he is ineligible to run the union for 10 years. Hoffa meets with D'Allesandro and demands to the gangster that Fitzsimmons be killed, which resulted in someone wiring Fitz's car to explode. D'Allesandro believes that Hoffa is "too hot" and says, "I can't get close to it." Hoffa leaves with the matter unresolved.
Ciaro delivers a message to D'Allesandro that unless the matter of Fitzsimmons can be settled, Hoffa will go to the press. D'Allesandro says to tell Hoffa that "everything's gonna be all right", and they should all meet the next day at "the roadhouse", a remote diner.
Hoffa and Ciaro spend several hours waiting in the parking lot, but D'Allesandro never arrives. A purported union driver has been waiting for hours in the diner, allegedly for a part for his truck, engaging Ciaro in conversation. He is invited to meet Hoffa in person by bringing a cup of coffee to the car. The driver reveals himself to be a hit man as he draws a gun. Just exactly who sent this 'hit man' is not revealed, however, the implication is that he was sent by D'Allesandro in retaliation for Hoffa's threat to 'go to the press'. Hoffa and Ciaro are gunned down in the parking lot. Several associates arrive and dump Ciaro's body on top of Hoffa's and they get in the car and drive it into the back of a large truck that had driven up as the shootings were taking place. The camera focuses on the roll-up door of the truck showing the different state plates, implying a final bit of irony: that the truck driver, in all likelihood, is a Teamster driver. And it's a truck that takes them away in secrecy. The truck drives off into the sunset.
The film was released on Christmas Day 1992, in 1,066 theaters. It debuted at no. 5 at the US box office. making $6.4 million in its opening weekend. In its second weekend, it dropped at #6 and grossed $4.8 million. It went on to gross $24.2 million in the U.S. and $5 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $29.3 million.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 52% based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 5.46/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Jack Nicholson embodies Hoffa with malevolent relish, but a dearth of meaningful insight knocks this crime epic off the mark by a nose." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 50 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5/4 stars and wrote, "Here is a movie that finds the right look and tone for its material. Not many directors would have been confident enough to simply show us Jimmy Hoffa instead of telling us all about him. This is a movie that makes its points between the lines, in what is not said. It's not so much about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, as about the fact that something eventually would."Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film 3.5/4 stars and said, "In the more ambitious Hoffa, Nicholson plays the Detroit street fighter who rose from the ranks of trucker and labor organizer to build the Teamsters into the nation's most powerful union. The boldness of director Danny DeVito's violent epic is matched by Nicholson's astonishing physical and vocal transformation into Jimmy Hoffa. The changeover might constrict another actor. Not Nicholson." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote: "Hoffa is an original work of fiction, based on fact, conceived with imagination and a consistent point of view." Canby notes that the film has "a bitterly skeptical edge that is rare in American movies. It forces viewers to make up their own minds, something that can be immensely disorienting as well as rewarding." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "It is a laconic, enigmatic piece of work, displaying the grace with spoken language that marked "Glengarry Glen Ross" but troublesome in terms of structure and character development."
Alex von Tunzelmann of The Guardian gave the film a grade of C-, saying: "The film attempts a cautious middle route between celebrating Hoffa as a working-class hero and condemning him as a gangster. But despite a watchable performance from Nicholson, after more than two hours of screentime, Jimmy Hoffa remains an enigma."
Hoffa earned two Oscar nominations for Cinematography and Makeup. Nicholson's performance sharply divided critics, with the actor receiving both a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor. DeVito also received a Razzie nomination for Worst Director. Ultimately, none of the nominated awards were won. The film was also nominated for the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: