Revisiting Hoffa: Brilliant Jack Nicholson saves this mob drama

Jack Nicholson hoffa
Jack Nicholson hoffa Danny DeVito’s Hoffa starred Jack Nicholson in the titular role.

Martin Scorsese’s much awaited mob drama The Irishman is now streaming on Netflix. Despite its lengthy run-time, the film is being hailed as one of the best films of Scorsese’s career.

Starring Robert De Niro in the title role and Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in supporting roles, The Irishman is about a truck driver Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) who becomes a hitman, working with gangster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family. He also works for the powerful labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The case of Al Pacino’s character James Riddle Hoffa is an absolutely fascinating one. Like De Niro’s Frank Sheeran and Pesci’s Bufalino, he is also based on a real man. Hoffa served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) (a labour union) from 1957 until 1971.

At some point during his presidency, he got involved with the mob to eliminate his rivals. While the mob certainly gets the job done, you can never really pay off the debt. In late 1975, Hoffa disappeared and to date, it is not known what happened to him — though nearly everyone believes his involvement with the mafia led to his downfall. You see, after his run-in with federal authorities, his suspicious union activities are discovered and he serves time. He is also barred from running the Teamsters for 10 years.

Though we will likely never know for sure what got Hoffa, we can at least theorise.

The Irishman, which is based on I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa, posits that it was Sheeran who shot him at point blank range at the behest of the mafia lords.

Hoffa, a 1992 biopic starring Jack Nicholson, has Hoffa as its centre and theorises in detail as to what happened to him. Directed by Danny DeVito, the movie is just average and it is only Nicholson’s hypnotic and uncharacteristically restrained performance that saves it from becoming a total slog. It is hard to tell that this is the actor who has played Joker and Jack Torrance.

In Hoffa, it is Armand Assante’s fictional mob boss Carol D’Allesandro, who likely gets him killed (it is implied, and not made explicit).

The Irishman movie review: An intimate, tender look at the Mob and its men

Even with an average screenplay and direction, Jack Nicholson’s stamp on Hoffa is arguably stronger than Al Pacino’s, though it can be said that having his character at the centre-stage helped Nicholson.

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