Hoffa (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDanny DeVito
Written byDavid Mamet
Produced by
CinematographyStephen H. Burum
Edited by
Music byDavid Newman
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 25, 1992 (1992-12-25)
Running time
140 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million[1]
Box office$29.3 million[2]

Hoffa is a 1992 American biographical crime drama 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. The story makes no claim to be historically accurate, and in fact is largely fictional. 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 original music score was composed by David Newman. The film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on December 25, 1992. The film received predominantly mixed reviews and grossed just $29 million against its $35 million budget, with critics being polarized over Nicholson's performance and criticizing the film's story.[3]


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 when he was an International Brotherhood of Teamsters union organizer working the various trucking firms and laundries around Detroit, Hoffa's life over the four preceding decades gradually unfolds. In 1935, Hoffa boards a parked truck where he meets driver Bobby Ciaro. 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 persuade his fellow drivers to unionize. Hoffa blurts out that he already spoke to Ciaro, getting him fired. He later accosts Hoffa with a knife, but Hoffa's longtime bodyguard Billy Flynn forces him to drop it at gunpoint. Ciaro assists Hoffa and Flynn in the arson of a laundry whose owner refuses to cooperate with the Teamsters. Flynn accidentally sets himself on fire and dies of his injuries. Ciaro then becomes Hoffa's new bodyguard and assistant.

During a Teamsters strike that quickly turns into a street brawl with non-union workers, Hoffa is taken to see Detroit Mafia's top boss, Carl D'Allesandro, with the Italian-American Ciaro acting as interpreter. A partnership is soon formed between the Teamsters and the Mafia, and Hoffa makes several illegal loans to the mob using union funds. At a Congressional hearing, Hoffa is questioned by Robert F. Kennedy over allegations that the Teamsters are controlled by organized crime. When Hoffa becomes president of the Teamsters in 1957, Kennedy and Hoffa engage in a loud and bitter feud, especially after John F. Kennedy is elected President in 1960 and Bobby becomes Attorney General.

During a hunting trip, D'Allesandro and Hoffa discuss an embezzlement scheme involving the Teamsters pension fund. Having no paper with them, the plans are sketched on the back of a hunting license. Hoffa is then betrayed by Teamsters official Peter Connelly, who not only testifies at Hoffa's trial for labor racketeering but also provides the prosecution with a crucial piece of evidence: the license. Hoffa surrenders to federal officials and receives a long sentence while Connelly's uncle, Frank Fitzsimmons, assumes control of the Teamsters. Ciaro is also convicted but on lesser charges, and quickly obtains early release from prison. D'Allesandro advises him to have the Teamsters endorse Richard M. Nixon for president in 1968 in exchange for Hoffa receiving a presidential pardon.

Hoffa is pardoned by the Nixon administration but learns that one of the conditions of his release is that he cannot have any involvement with the Teamsters for at least ten years. Hoffa becomes furious and meets with D'Allesandro, asking him to have Fitzsimmons killed, resulting in a failed attempt to assassinate him with a car bomb. D'Allesandro believes that Hoffa has become "too hot" with his public antics and declines to help him any further. In response, Hoffa has Ciaro deliver a message to D'Allesandro that unless Fitzsimmons is dealt with, Hoffa will go to the press. D'Allesandro replies that he will meet with Hoffa at a nearby diner the next day to work out a plan.

Hoffa and Ciaro spend several hours waiting in the diner's parking lot, but D'Allesandro does not come. A union driver has been waiting for hours in the dining room, allegedly for a part for his truck. He and Ciaro start talking, and Ciaro lets him take some coffee to Hoffa, who is waiting in the car. The "driver" pulls out a silenced pistol and kills Hoffa and Ciaro. He is immediately driven off in a car that pulls up; at the same time, men emerge from the truck, drive Hoffa's car with both bodies into it, and drive off.



In 1982, George Barrie hired Robin Moore to write a screenplay for a biopic called The Jimmy Hoffa Story for GB Pictures International, with Hoffa's attorney Frank Ragnaro serving as a script consultant. The screenplay was later retitled Hoffa and filming was originally projected to commence in the spring of 1984, but no progress occurred. In 1989 Joe Isgro, Edward R. Pressman, and Chaldecot Chubb purchased the rights to Moore's screenplay and hired David Mamet to rewrite it for $1 million. Pressman considered Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, and John McTiernan to direct the film. Levinson was the frontrunner but chose to decline after Mamet refused to make script changes. Pressman hired Danny DeVito to direct in April 1990. Jack Nicholson was hired to play Hoffa after Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro also auditioned. Both Pacino and De Niro would star in the 2019 Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, with the former playing Hoffa.[4] DeVito secured a $50 million budget for the film by forgoing his salary and signing as co-guarantor for the film. Production was originally set to begin in Washington D.C. in January 1992 but was delayed because of Nicholson and DeVito's commitments to other films. It would ultimately last between February and June 1992 in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, and soundstages in Los Angeles. Carnegie Mellon University, Cobo Arena, the Detroit Produce Terminal, the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit News staff room, the Ambassador Hotel, and the Spiegel Office Building were used as shooting locations.[3]

The film sparked controversy before its release, when DeVito made a statement that he saw Hoffa as a hero.[5] The film was made without the Hoffa's family permission. Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa, despite praising the film for its heroic portrayal of his father, was critical of his portrayal as "an angry bear."[6] The film's portrayal of Hoffa's disappearance bears little resemblance to the actual events of July 30, 1975. Rather than traveling to an isolated diner with a bodyguard as shown in the movie, Hoffa's last known sighting was at the Machus Red Fox, an upscale restaurant next to a shopping center in the affluent Detroit, Michigan suburb of Bloomfield Hills, where he had arranged a meeting with Tony Provenzano and Tony Giacalone. The location of the murder is unknown, but any violence in the parking lot would have attracted attention from potential witnesses and left evidence that could have been used by police. Hoffa's car was also found abandoned at the restaurant after his disappearance.


Box office[edit]

The film premiered at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on December 11, 1992.[3] It received a wider release on Christmas Day 1992, in 1,066 theaters. It debuted at no. 5 at the US box office.[7] 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.[2] Jack Nicholson blamed the film's poor performance on Columbia Pictures's decision to move his other film A Few Good Men to the same release date.[3]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews, with criticism being directed at for historical inaccuracies and its depiction of Hoffa in a heroic, even sympathetic light.[8][9] Sean Wilentz, writing in the New Republic, accused the film of having been conceived, originated, and outlined by organized crime figures. 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."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 50 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15] 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."[16]

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."[17]

David Thomson states that the film was terribly neglected, since Nicholson portrayed one of his best screen characters, someone who is "snarly, dumb, smart, noble, rascally—all the parts of 'Jack'".[18]


Hoffa earned two Oscar nominations for Cinematography and Makeup, losing to A River Runs Through It and Bram Stoker's Dracula.[19] 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. The film was also nominated for the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.[20]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hoffa". The Numbers.
  2. ^ a b "Hoffa (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 2021-07-13.
  4. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1992-08-30). "A Labor-Intensive 'Hoffa' : Jack Nicholson got the part, but it's Danny DeVito, directing with the bark of the Teamster boss himself, who acts like Jimmy Hoffa". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  5. ^ "A Team Player // DeVito's 'Hoffa' Depicts Legendary Union Boss Whose Sudden, Suspicious Disappearance Shaped - and Distorted - His Legacy". Tulsa World. 20 December 1992.
  6. ^ "Memories of Jimmy". People.
  7. ^ Fox, David J. (1992-12-28). "Christmas Crowd Opts for the Tried and True : Box office: Holiday weekend sees expected surge in moviegoing with established hits selling most of the tickets". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  8. ^ Johnson, Malcolm (December 25, 1992). "Nicholson Performance Strong, But Devito Robs 'Hoffa' Of Drama". Hartford Courant.
  9. ^ Thompson, Gary (December 24, 1992). "Solidarity With 'Hoffa' Teamster Boss Portrayed As Working-class Tragic Hero". philly.com.
  10. ^ "Hoffa (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  11. ^ "Hoffa reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  12. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2019-07-31.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (1992-12-25). "Hoffa review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  14. ^ Travers, Peter (1992-12-25). "Hoffa". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (1992-12-25). "Review/Film; Big Labor's Master Of Manipulation". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2019-07-31.
  16. ^ Turan, Kenneth (1992-12-25). "MOVIE REVIEWS : 'Hoffa': Negotiating a Complex Life : Saga of Teamsters Leader Is Dark, Sinister, Brooding". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  17. ^ "Hoffa: DeVito shouldn't have hassled the Hoff". The Guardian. 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  18. ^ Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Alfred A. Knopf (2002) pp. 634–635
  19. ^ Weinrub, Bernald (March 30, 1993). "Oscar's night started at noon in Hollywood". The New York Times. p. 9. Archived from the original on April 29, 2023. Retrieved April 29, 2023 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  20. ^ "Berlinale: 1993 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  21. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved 2016-08-06.

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