This is the best film about Jimmy Hoffa ever made. Gospel truth, I think it is one of the best movies any of these guys have ever made. Robert Deniro is absolutely phenom. Joe Pesci was only recognizable by his voice. Al Pacino is known for throwing himself into roles and he pole vaulted into this one.
Deniro has a line near the beginning that goes something like this.
Kids today know nothing about Jimmy Hoffa. Oh, they might know he was someone who disappeared, but they know nothing else about him.
I don’t remember the line exactly, but that’s the gist of it and it is true. I was a child when all of this went down and don’t remember that much of it. Oh, I remember a bunch given my dad had a CDL and I have a CDL. All of the stories about people who were against the union getting beaten with ball peen hammers until their head swelled to twice normal and somehow they still lived. Those were common. The televised testimony before Kennedy.
Jimmy Hoffa History
Every Hoffa movie gets trapped with the history. If you want to understand how Hoffa became so god-like to so many people you have to understand the history. If you want to have phenom experience watching this movie you need to either be “of a certain age” or you need to understand the history. No single movie can cover the Hoffa history. It would be 14-18 hours in length. People would get lost in all of the seemingly disconnected story lines.
Most of you will not comprehend the reality, but this is all coming back. Even the bodies found in Lake Mead, less than two hours from Las Vegas are caught up in this history. The creation of “Vegas” is the story of the mob and the Teamsters. The Bay of Pigs invasion and both Kennedy assassinations are the story of the mob and the Teamsters. The pension fund made it possible for the mob to do such things.
Of all the movies covering this history and of all the news I remember from the era, The Irishman is the only movie to really explain the pension fund connection. Most of the movies mention the loans or focus on the investigation of the loans and the no-interest illegalities, but none explained it. Deniro does it in a voice-over here.
Banks couldn’t loan money to casinos because it was gambling and illegal.
Movies to Watch First
A big piece of Jimmy Hoffa history can be found in the movies. If you want to get the most out of The Irishman, watch these movies in this order first.
I don’t remember F.I.S.T. being a particularly good movie. It wasn’t a bad movie. I watched it on regular television. Sylvester Stalone was kind of at the peak of his bankable popularity. This never outright said it the union was the Teamsters. It’s a critical movie to watch if you want to have any real kind of understanding of how blind devotion to a union and Jimmy Hoffa came to be. Yes, a big chunk of this movie focuses on the criminal investigations. More importantly this movie covers the early violent days required to create the union.
You find a lot of stories about violence trying to force drivers to join the union. Yes, that happened. None of it happened to the extent and volume of the stories. What you don’t find a lot of stories about is the extreme violence companies went through to stop a union. We aren’t just talking about Amazon.com retaliation against union workers/organizers. That certainly happened with wanton abandon. Companies actually hired thugs and in some cases mob members to actually beat and sometimes kill workers trying to stir up a union. Yes, that was America. It really happened. Read up on the Ford Hunger March where Ford Motor Company turned machine guns on starving people who just wanted jobs so they could eat. Think about that the next time you consider buying a Ford product.
I watched this movie on regular television. It’s content was limited by the broadcasting rules of the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad movie, just not one I would watch more than 2-3 times during my life. I don’t even have a review of it on this site, yet.
There is not a bad actor or performance in this movie. I mean that. This takes place after the Teamsters were big. You need to pay attention to the part where they worked out a deal with the drivers to boost loads out of JFK airport and how the whole “tribute” system worked. You had to be an earner. Ray Liotta gives an absolutely captivating performance. Sadly both he and Paul Sorvino are no longer with us.
Warren Beatty plays Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who wanted to be an actor. He had big dreams and big visions. Annette Bening plays Virginia Hill, Bugsy’s female interest . . . among other things. In many ways, she is in love with a hapless loser who has big dreams and grand visions.
Bugsy Siegel create Las Vegas.
It was a dirt water town in the middle of nowhere. There is a phenom scene where Bugsy makes them stop the car in the middle of the desert and goes on a rant about “We’ll build it here!” His cronies argue it’s the middle of the desert. “Haven’t you heard? Air conditioning! Seventy degrees year round! Gambling is already legal here, we won’t be breaking any laws!”
Bugsy was a big enough mobster to convince the mob to spend its own money to build the first hotel casino in Las Vegas. He also got oceans of actor friends to invest in it. At one point he had sold 2-3 times the number of shares that actually existed trying to fund the thing because the mob money ran out.
Pay attention to that last bit in bold. Bugsy, for all intents and purposes, bankrupted “the mob” building that hotel. It opened on Christmas day and closed shortly thereafter. I forget the rest of the story other than, after Bugsy got whacked, there is text stating this fact.
By 1991, the $6 million invested in Bugsy’s Las Vegas dream had generated $100 billion revenues.
Bugsy’s vision and dream wasn’t wrong. It just needed Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters pension fund to get all of it built. Air conditioning was a new fangled invention few places had. Bugsy bet a $6 million dollar hotel/casino that it would work.
This is a well done story about the life of Jimmy Hoffa. Like so much of culture of the day, it speculates on just how he got whacked and what happened to his body. Danny DeVito plays Bobby Ciaro, a truck driver Jimmy Hoffa recruits to help start the union. This movie does a good job covering the violence on both sides of the union fight.
The absolute best part of this movie is early on when Jack Nicholson is riding with Danny DeVito in the truck, trying to convince him to join and help create the union. He points out the scars between the fingers of Danny’s hand. As best I can from memory . . .
That scar! The one between your fingers. I know that scar. It’s from when your driving cig burns down and wakes you up. I got scars too. What happens when you or your wife gets sick? You gotta work twice as long to pay for the medical care because the company doesn’t provide any healthcare.
The scene was more than just a couple of lines. I probably mushed some together.
Kids today have never lived during a time when healthcare coverage did not come with a job or via Obamacare. At least, if they’ve ever worked for a larger company. Small family restaurants and the like still don’t provide healthcare.
Prior to Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, we didn’t have “hours of service” rules. There wasn’t a pee test for drugs or even a DOT physical as far as I can remember. Shipping companies would try to force drivers to spend 18-20 hours behind the wheel at a time. Drivers would pop all kinds of pills to stay awake. Fleets didn’t provide any form of health insurance or coverage. If you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid. When you had no money, you didn’t go see a doctor.
If you drove, you smoked. Even non-smokers held a “driving cig” between the first two fingers of their left hand. You held it above the filter down next to your palm. When you fell asleep on a straight stretch of road it would wake you up by burning your hand. Thus was the state of the trucking industry. Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters changed that.
Tie back to The Irishman
The Irishman has one short scene where the little girl named Peggy is at the head of her class giving a presentation on Jimmy Hoffa. She points out that because of Jimmy Hoffa drivers now earn a decent (for the time) wage. As union members they also got healthcare for themselves and their families. During this time the only way you got healthcare coverage was through a union. Corporations would not provide it as a benefit to attract workers.
What you have to understand here is that people didn’t go to college. The vast majority of the population graduated high school and went to work at a factory or went into “the trades.” College cost money they and their parents didn’t have. As long as you stayed mostly healthy, you could earn enough to feed a family and own a small home. Workers were basically treated like cattle; eliminated when no longer at their prime.
I’m going to break chronological order and have you watch Casino next. There are two things you really need to take away from this movie. First is the size of the mob in Vegas and its cozy relationship with regulators. Pay attention to how the regulators don’t actually process anything until the useless relative gets fired. The next thing you need to remember is one little voice over scene from Joe Pesci talking about hotels in Cuba and trying to whack Castro.
Bugsy had the dream, but it took a pension fund controlled by Jimmy Hoffa to really build it. The casinos were not only an amazing place to skim money from, they were fantastic for laundering cash from all other illegal activity, including drug sales. As long as the cash wasn’t from a ransom where all of the serial numbers would be recorded, you could launder the money at full face value.
Person carries large bag of cash in, buys chips, quickly loses it at the tables. Laundry complete!
You can’t really understand how desperate the mob was to get back into Havana until you see what they ended up building in Vegas. They didn’t have to build Havana. Just run it, skim, and launder. Fishing boats could haul bails of cash to a foreign country 90 miles away, free from American banking regulations and taxes.
Oliver Stone’s JFK staring Kevin Costner is the movie you need to watch next. It doesn’t matter what you choose to believe about the assassination of JFK. You can believe the lone gunman with a magic bullet story put forth by the CIA, or the more widely believed multiple shooters from the grassy knoll. This movie kind of runs through the entire field.
One thing you really need to learn from this movie is just how cozy the relationship was between the CIA and the mob. There can be some debate about whether or not it existed prior to World War II, but it flourished during that period. Many people forget that the United States didn’t jump right into WWII. The CIA conducted a lot of operations to assist what would become our allies. The Italian mob is how information was gathered in Mussolini’s Italy and throughout occupied Europe.
Whenever there is an occupation organized crime rises to prominence via “the black market.” Depending on who wins, they are either terrorists or freedom fighters. How do you think the French resistance got weapons and bombs?
You really need to take this movie in as a whole thing. Understand how “Southern Logic” ran rampant in America at the time. Homosexuality was illegal. If you were caught engaging in sodomy you were thrown into prison where another man would sodomize you. This is Southern Logic and is only one of the hundreds of examples from the era. If you pay attention you can pick quite a few of them up from JFK. Probably one of the more well-known (at the time) was just how far “whoever” went to paint Lee Harvey Oswald. A rifle was ordered and shipped to his door creating a completely traceable paper trail when he could have walked into any hardware store in Texas and bought a better rifle for cash that would have been completely untraceable.
Jimmy Hoffa as The Irishman tells it
You are now ready to watch this movie. Oh, for certain, you could watch it cold and still have a fine movie, no question. If you want to understand just how much effort went into the details of this movie you have to have watched the other movies or been a big student of union history.
- The Italian mob had friends in the CIA.
- The Italian mob was Catholic (mostly) and so was JFK.
- The Italian mob wanted the casinos in Cuba that they used to run.
- The pension fund was a great big bucket of money that could be invested in anything, including casinos in Las Vegas.
- Nobody ever figured out why Bobby Kennedy was going after Jimmy Hoffa and the Italian mob so hard given both of them worked to get his brother elected.
This movie is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses. There are many trying to discredit this “deathbed confession” of Frank Shareen. If you want to read a list of critiques you can find them in this article. Be sure to read to the very end.
In 2005, blood residue was discovered on the wooden floorboards of the house Hoffa was allegedly killed in, but DNA tests were inconclusive. For those in the know, the mystery continues.Esquire magazine
What pulls you in with this movie is how true it was to history. Don’t get me wrong, people will argue about the facts until the human race ceases to exist. Just like the JFK assassination, if titanium clad irrefutable evidence was presented there would still be thousands of people shouting it down and claiming it to be a lie. Most have a vested interest in something else.
Details to Watch for
I’ve already told you about Peg’s speech in front of the class talking about decent wages and health insurance. Most every movie skips the health insurance part. It was a huge factor in drivers joining the union, especially during the early violent days.
Every mobster introduced in the movie has a little text box that pops up in font you can actually read on a small screen stating when and how he died. Other than Frank, only one of these guys died of old age and that guy died of old age in prison.
Nobody has actually dredged the river where all of these guns were supposedly thrown. At least I’ve never seen a news report on it.
History books get written by the victors. Frank was the last one left alive so he got to tell his story. There was blood found on the floorboards. It was old enough to be “inconclusive” but human so someone got whacked there.
Cremation of Hoffa’s body is the most believable disposal story I’ve ever heard. If you watched Casino and pay attention to the bodies turning up in Lake Mead you know that a dumped body turns up. A dumped body turning up even happens in Goodfellas.
There are lots of movies and stories about a body put into a trunk and the car run through a shredder. Gotta leave DNA all over the place. Bodies buried in vacant land tend to turn up when the land gets sold and someone tries to build. You’ve probably all read about the college student body found in a wall. Construction sites and people being dumped in front of a fresh concrete pour abound.
Cremation wasn’t popular or widely known in the 70s. I think even Mad Magazine had cartoons about the mob owning funeral parlors to get rid of bodies they didn’t want to turn up. It was one of those dirty little topics people didn’t talk about. Kind of like those cemeteries that resell the same high dollar plot over and over, just keep moving the bodies.
Stumbling into Jimmy Hoffa’s body has been joked about for decades. Robin Williams used it. Jim Carey even did a movie where he was a reporter that found the body. Having a body cremated got rid of Jimmy Hoffa for good. Having his body turn up would launch massive investigations. There have been massive investigations already but they had nothing to go on.
The Irishman is the best film about Jimmy Hoffa I’ve ever seen. I don’t care who nit-picks at it. He was the last one alive so he gets to tell the story he wants. They were mobsters. They all lied. Get over it. This movie doesn’t claim to be the definitive story about Jimmy Hoffa, but it damned well could be. Maybe he didn’t pull the trigger, but he knew where the a deed got done that the cops didn’t know about.
This movie is way better than Casino. It’s on par with Goodfellas.