Hoffa (1992): DeVito’s Biopic Starring Jack Nicholson

In this misguided epic film, Jack Nicholson plays the titular role, the boss of the Teamster Union, who proudly survives the Congress investigation and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, but is eventually done in by the mob.

Poorly written by David Mamet, Hoffa proved to be a disappointing biopic and a big flop at the box-office. Danny DeVito does a double duty, as director and as actor, playing Hoffa’s sidekick and protector.  Going for maximum (fake) intensity, DeVito pumps up every scene, even the trivial ones, to dubiously confounding effects.

Both Mamet and Devito were criticized for departures from the known facts, unable to decide to what extent Hoffa was a flawed charismatic hero or anti-hero.

Nicholson is almost unrecognizable due to the skillful, Oscar-nominated makeup, but he may have been miscast, or misdirected by DeVito.

The supporting cast includes J.T. Walsh, Armand Asante, and Robert Prosky, all reliable actors, but to no avail here.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Cinematography: Stephen H. Burum

Makeup: Ve Neill, Geg Cannom, John Blake

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Cinematography Oscar went to Philippe Rousselot for A River Runs Through It.

Cannom won the Makeup Oscar for another film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in collaboration with Michele Burke and Matthew Mungle.