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Danny DeVito
Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Armand Assante, JT Walsh, John C. Reilly
Writing Credits:
David Mamet

The story of the notorious American labor union figure, Jimmy Hoffa.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 9/18/2012

• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Danny DeVito
• Introduction from Director/Actor Danny DeVito
• “The Music of Hoffa” Featurette
• Danny DeVito’s Speech at the 2011 Teamsters Convention
• Excised Scenes
• Historical News Coverage of Hoffa
• Personal Anecdotes from Members of the Teamsters Union
• Special Shots
• “DeVito’s 11 ¼”
• Siskel and Ebert Segment
• Discussion After First Script Read-Through
• Trailer
• Production Gallery
• Shooting Script
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Hoffa [Blu-Ray] (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2016)

By the early 1990s, his work on films such as Throw Momma from the Train and War of the Roses began to bring respect to Danny DeVito as a director. With 1992’s Hoffa, he branched out from his prior comedic work and went with an epic look at controversial union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

After a quick opening in 1975 – the year when Hoffa (Jack Nicholson) mysteriously disappeared – we view events through flashbacks. These begin in 1935 with the first time Hoffa met Bobby Ciaro (DeVito), a driver who would eventually become Hoffa’s friend and right-hand man. (Ciaro didn’t exist; the character comes as an amalgam of other real-life people.)

Hoffa sells Ciaro on the Teamsters, a major union. Initially, Ciaro resists Hoffa’s pitch, but he eventually comes around and joins the cause. The film follows Hoffa’s life and career, with plenty of controversies along the way.

When Hoffa hit screens at the end of 1992, it seemed like a film likely to garner ample Oscar attention. However, it only received two nominations; these came for cinematography and for makeup. How was it possible that an “A”-list epic biopic written by David Mamet and starring Jack Nicholson could get essentially snubbed by the Academy?

I suppose it’s because Hoffa just isn’t an especially good movie. DeVito probably stands as the film’s biggest problem, essentially because he bites off more than he can chew. DeVito appears so eager to stake his claim as a Big-Time Director that he succumbs to pretension.

This means that DeVito imbues Hoffa with a lot of self-conscious attempts to seem “epic”. DeVito utilizes many showy filmmaking techniques, few of which feel natural and organic. For instance, one sequence delivers a slow zoom on a priest’s ear that then cuts to a close-up of DeVito’s mouth. I guess the director thought this would look smooth and “arty”, but it just comes across as pointless and showy.

Because of these elements, Hoffa occasionally feels like a parody of an epic biopic. DeVito works so hard to impress us that the opposite occurs and we become distracted by his lack of cinematic restraint.

It doesn’t help that the story tends to plod. The flashback structure becomes a nuisance – we know it’ll lead to Hoffa’s still-unsolved disappearance – and events don’t progress in a particularly dynamic manner. We traipse along as Hoffa works his way up in the ranks and deals with various issues, but little real drama occurs. No matter how hard DeVito tries, the tale remains flat and uninspiring.

Maybe I shouldn’t blame this on DeVito, as some of the problems may reside with Mamet’s script. However, I think the buck ultimately lies with the director; he’s the one who needs to fix any screenplay problems. I have so little confidence in DeVito’s abilities that I wonder if he actually harmed Mamet’s work; I have more faith in Mamet than I do DeVito, so I can’t help but consider the notion that the director undercut what might’ve been a good foundation.

Or maybe the whole thing’s a dud from all sides. Nicholson didn’t get an Oscar nod as Hoffa, but he did receive a Razzie nomination. I don’t think Nicholson deserved that level of insult, but that doesn’t mean I feel positively about his performance. Nicholson tends toward caricature as Hoffa; buried underneath a mountain of makeup, he turns the union leader into a cartoon tough guy without much else involved.

All of this is a shame, as I suspect a good film could look at the life of Jimmy Hoffa. Unfortunately, this isn’t that film. Hoffa isn’t a total dud, but it’s mediocre at best and never captures the viewer’s interest, even though it tries really, really hard.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Hoffa appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a pretty strong presentation.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. A few interiors looked a bit soft, but those were exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of the elements came across as concise and well-defined. Jaggies and moiré effects failed to materialize, and I noticed no edge haloes. With a nice, natural layer of grain, heavy-handed digital noise reduction didn’t appear to occur, and the image lacked spots, marks or other print defects.

In terms of colors, the film opted for a subdued palette. That came as no surprise, for period films usually follow that path. Overall color reproduction remained fine; despite the mildly muted sensibility, the hues remained pretty full and vivid.

Blacks showed nice depth and intensity, and I thought low-light shots appeared clear and well-defined. Only the smattering of soft spots made this a “B+” transfer, as most of the flick merited “A”-level consideration.

I also felt pleased with the satisfying DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Hoffa. Given the narrative, I expected a low-key soundscape, but the mix managed to open up pretty consistently. Shots with vehicles allowed them to move smoothly around the room, and more action-oriented pieces – like explosions or gunfire – delivered impressive material. All these elements melded together smoothly and created a nice, five-channel setting.

Audio quality was a little dated but still positive. Speech occasionally seemed a little brittle, but the lines were always intelligible and usually natural. Music sounded bold and bright, while effects showed nice clarity and accuracy; only a smidgen of distortion ever marred the piece. This was a solid “B+” mix.

Part of Fox’s “Filmmakers Signature Series”, the disc opens with an Introduction from director/actor Danny DeVito. He pops out of the opening Fox logo to provide an overview of the disc. It’s an insubstantial but fun way to begin.

DeVito reappears to give us an audio commentary. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at sets and locations, makeup and effects, cast and performances, story/character subjects, production design, costumes and period details, cinematography and editing, historical elements, and a few other areas.

From start to finish, DeVito provides an engaging look at the film. He covers a good selection of subjects and does so in a satisfying manner. The director helps make this a likable, informative chat.

Entitled The Music of Hoffa, a featurette runs 10 minutes, 31 seconds and features a chat between DeVito and composer David Newman. They sit together and discuss the movie’s score and related elements. The pair connect well and give us a nice overview of the music.

For something unusual, we get Danny DeVito’s Speech at the 2011 Teamsters Convention. This goes for 15 minutes, 16 seconds and offers DeVito’s address about unions and how much he loves them and values them. DeVito adds enough humor to his speech to make this more than just a curiosity.

Three Excised Scenes occupy a total of five minutes, 18 seconds. In these, we see a Hoffa news conference, a shooting expedition followed by a dinner to celebrate Hoffa’s upward progress, and a montage of silent elements that I suspect was meant to cap the film. The second clip has some interesting bits but none of the three adds anything substantial.

Next we find Historical News Coverage of Hoffa. This section fills seven minutes, 54 seconds and shows the real Jimmy Hoffa at the hearing conducted by Robert Kennedy. This becomes one of the disc’s best extras, as it gives us a great look at the actual people behind the movie.

Under Personal Anecdotes from Members of the Teamsters Union, we get a six-minute, 36-second piece that features Larry Brennan, Robert Holmes, Robie Smith, Robert Lins, Jimmy Yardley, Al Klingman, William “Crash” Taylor, and Charles Lester. DeVito conducted the interviews back during the period of the movie’s creation, and we get stories about Hoffa. These tend to be laudatory, but we still find some decent information.

Within a section called Special Shots, we see a 14-minute, 13-second collection of shots from the set. DeVito narrates as we view the footage, and text tells us where to find the finished sequences in the movie. DeVito delivers some useful notes and we check out some good behind the scenes material.

What in the world is DeVito’s 11 ¼? The 11-minute, two-second piece shows us more footage from the shoot. These pieces tend toward the more fun/silly side; it’s not blooper reel material, but it’s lighter than usual. I never figured out what the collection’s title means, though.

We look at the film’s critical reception via a 1992 Siskel and Ebert Segment. It lasts four minutes, 28 seconds and lets us hear what the noted critics thought of Hoffa. Both liked it, so don’t expect much criticism here.

Behind the scenes material shows up under Discussion After First Script Read-Through. This reel fills three minutes, 34 seconds and lets us hear audio recording of the cast’s chat about the screenplay. It’s a fun reel that gives us some good insights.

In addition to the film’s Trailer, we locate some still materials. A Production Gallery shows 106 photos; it mixes shots from the set and movie images. It’s a nice collection, and I like the fact that it follows the production in the order of the story’s events.

We also get a Shooting Script for Hoffa. This covers the entire original screenplay, so we find deleted scenes in addition to those that made the final film. The format can be awkward – it uses 378 frames and lacks any kind of indexing – but it’s still cool to see the whole screenplay.

Finally, the package includes a 28-page Booklet. It offers some production notes as well as cast/crew biographies. DVD/Blu-ray booklets are a dying breed, so it’s nice to find one here – especially when the booklet is as high-quality as this one.

Back in 1992, Hoffa looked like a sure-fire critical hit. Instead, it got mixed reviews and failed to attract an audience. I suspect this occurred because Hoffa offers an overly eager epic, a film that wants desperately to impress the viewer but that lacks much substance. The Blu-ray delivers very good picture and audio along with a nice collection of bonus features. Hoffa remains a disappointment as a film, but the Blu-ray stands tall as a fine release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
2 3:
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