Among the more unjustly ignored performances was Jack Nicholson’s turn as Union boss Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa. Fox finally decided to put out the Danny DeVito directed, David Mamet written film on DVD. Mamet’s script seems to romanticize Hoffa, portraying him as more of a Union man, as one who was forced to make deals that could compromise his integrity, but he overlooks his integrity in order to help benefit the American working man. The story is told in the point of view of Hoffa aide Bobby Ci…ro (DeVito), a fictitious character whose flashbacks are used to help us see how Hoffa perhaps should be viewed, as opposed to the punchline in some jokes we may make now.
As is usually the case with Mamet’s screenplay, the dialogue is well-written and engrossing, and Nicholson’s portrayal of Hoffa is both powerful and persuasive. You see him with a prosthetic nose and hairpiece, along with a couple of dental devices that get the look of Hoffa down to a T. In DeVito, a longtime real-life friend, one who knows his ins and outs, Nicholson pulls out all the stops. Recent Nicholson performances seem to glide along on a gentle stride, using the occasional (and very effective) use of his noteworthy eyes. But in Hoffa, he’s a guy who is clearly more animated, as the role dictates, and it’s a much more dynamic performance than you’re used to seeing. Is Hoffa historically accurate? Probably not, and God knows there are more informed people who will tell you so. However, DeVito does manage to use the time period where Jimmy feuded openly with Robert Kennedy to great effect, using the congressional hearings as an interesting start of a plot device that helps provide an interesting hypothetical on Hoffa’s possible Mafia ties. With an outstanding supporting cast including Robert Prosky (Hill Street Blues), the late JT Walsh (Sling Blade), Armand Assante (Q & A) and a very young John C. Reilly (Chicago), the movie’s overall impact is very clearly felt. I’ve long since worn out my copy of Hoffa on VHS, and am happy to see it finally appear as part of a pretty loaded DVD release.
There are 2.0 stereo French and Spanish tracks, and a English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that, in a bit of a surprise, has the THX seal of approval. The surround effects however, aren’t used too often, but the LFE picks up nicely during explosions and other sound elements that require it.
Fox has made an excellent reputation from giving long-awaited movies that finally arrive to DVD a stellar presentation, and this is another example. Hoffa is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that is sharp in detail and free of artifact issues. The color reproduction is outstanding, as the blacks and more subdued colors that dominate the film are in top shape, and when the colors do come out, like on the golf course or during various explosions, they also appear well.
There is an excellent mix of extra material here, some entertaining, some historical, and most of it enhances the viewing experience. The disc kicks off with a commentary by DeVito. He’s pretty animated throughout most of the feature, though he does hit the wall in the latter parts of the film, with more dead air gaps in the latter 45 minutes. However, he’s not without a good deal of information on the film, both in the technical and production aspects. He talks about a cameo in the film by Tim Burton, including a gag reel take that is included later in the disc. He also complains jokingly about the snub of Nicholson for any notable dramatic awards also, perhaps suggesting a Kennedy curse. In an eerie twist, he talks about some of the Hoffa footage in the film that was shot at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. History buffs will recall that it was the place where Bobby Kennedy was shot. Whether it was intentional or coincidence is up to the viewer. He also relays a funny David Mamet joke that I’ll repeat here:
A English guy walks out of a theater in New York, and a homeless guy asks him for some change, the English guy says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Shakespeare.” The homeless guy replies, “Fuck You. David Mamet.” All in all, it’s a very good commentary track, full of information and worth the time.
From there, we get the usual deleted, excuse me, excised scenes, with introduction by DeVito. There are 4 scenes that run just over 5 minutes total, and none are really noteworthy, and their exorcism(?) is pretty justifiable. Next is about 8 minutes of historical news coverage on the verbal sparring between Hoffa and Kennedy during the McClellan congressional hearings. A couple of things to note are how close the argument stayed on film, and just how much Nicholson looked (and sounded) like Hoffa himself. Next up are personal anecdotes from members of the Teamsters Union. These are 6 minutes of recollections from former Teamster Presidents, members, and even the official Teamster photographer, all interviewed by DeVito. Stepping into the production aspect of the film, the special shots section. These dissect some of the camera tricks used in the film. They include production audio and video from those times, and a space in the lower left of the screen indicates what chapter on the feature they appear, and they appear chronologically in this piece to boot, and the entire feature (about 15 minutes worth) includes commentary by DeVito. By my count, there are 20 shots that he breaks down, and he’s fairly extensive in his discussion. This was a very unique and cool feature on the disc, one that I now want on every DVD I buy dammit!
Next up is DeVito’s 11 ¼. This basically amounts to a production diary by DeVito, and he clearly had a lot of fun on the shoot, and we see some clowning around with longtime buddy Nicholson as well. As mentioned earlier, Tim Burton did an uncredited cameo as a corpse, and DeVito and Nicholson had fun with him. Call me crazy, but watching famous people clown around on set never gets old to me, and this piece was 10 minutes of fun “for all you disc maniacs.” The storyboards section is broken down into the early and late years, with 8 sections and over 300 storyboards, some of which are actually pictures from the film. DeVito taped a discussion after the first script read-through that’s only about 3 minutes, but includes discussion mainly with DeVito, Nicholson and Walsh, accompanied by production stills of the film. The entire shooting script can be paged through using your remote, along with text reviews of the film by the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Completing the reviews section is the Siskel and Ebert review of the film. 34 film pictures and costume drawings are next, and the side by side comparison was nice to see here. A small poster gallery of 9 nearly identical international movie posters is here, along with the trailer, even a reading list of Hoffa related material to complete the package.
A cheap price, combined with an excellent film, and another Jack Nicholson home run in acting, this is usually a recommendation. Given the usual Fox treatment however, including a commentary track and a bounty of extra material (and a strong effort by DeVito for the consumer), this is a lock to buy. DeVito’s words on the effort put into this disc can’t be made clearer than this: “This is a thorough disc, and I hope you enjoy it.”
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Historical Footage
- Shooting Script