It's Labor Day, 2009, and have you been run off the road by a long-haul trucker lately? They're no longer unionized in America.
But it is Labor Day, 2009. So, have you seen the ultimate long-haul truckers' movie, "Hoffa"?
It is a great, overwhelming, and devastating movie which absolutely must be seen to be appreciated. But it pays compliment to the labor movement in America -- specifically, to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters -- and it doesn't glamorize or criticize The Mob.
"Hoffa" is a sequence of flashbacks in the mind of Bobby Ciaro (Danny DeVito), occurring while he and Jimmy Hoffa (Jack Nicholson) are waiting at a roadside diner for mob kingpin Carol D'Allesandro (Armand Assante) to show up. Bobby and Jimmy expect D'Allesandro, when he comes, to agree to have Frank Fitzsimmons (J.T. Walsh) killed, who shuffled Hoffa out of the Teamsters in a deal with President Nixon to release Jimmy from prison, in return for Hoffa's being banned from the IBT. Hoffa and Ciaro are both gray and nostalgic, and in the movie's opening scene at the roadhouse, it becomes clear that Jack Nicholson is in peak acting form, and that Danny DeVito is the main character in the movie.
Danny DeVito, by stef+ at Flickr (2007)
The latter fact is established when the roadhouse scene fades into a flashback by Bobby to the time when he was driving a truck and met Jimmy on a roadside in the 1930's. In this first flashback, Bobby is extremely anti-union, and wants Hoffa to stay out of his truck. But Hoffa's iron determination prevails, and after the two men drive together and talk for a few hours, Hoffa succeeds in getting Bobby to listen to him and think about everything he's been saying about the benefits of belonging to a union.
This slight "conversion" of Danny DeVito to the IBT cause at the very outset of the movie is built on in subsequent scenes, and it establishes the legitimacy of the union and Hoffa himself in the viewer's mind. When the movie was released in 1992, although most Americans were anti-union in general and anti-Jimmy Hoffa in particular, they loved and respected Danny DeVito for the comedic roles he had been playing on TV for years.
You might not respond to this first flashback scene as positively as I did -- and I have no idea how you might react to the subsequent violent scenes, further establishing the legitimacy of Hoffa and the IBT in my mind. But once the viewer accepts the essential goodness of Hoffa and the IBT, the movie becomes a wild and frantic ride through history, as related by Jimmy Hoffa and his non-mobster, Italian-speaking, gun-toting, sidekick Bobby "Charo." More, the movie is literally stunning because of its compelling story, non-stop action, excellent acting, and outstanding set designs and photography. From constructed period shots in the 1930's; through Hoffa's confrontations with "Bobby" Kennedy in the middle 1960's; to Hoffa's imprisonment in 1967, and subsequent disappearance in 1975, this movie is consistently remarkable.
Jack Nicholson in 2008, at Wikipedia
The most moving scene in the movie for me lasted less than a minute on the screen. It showed probably a mile of long-haul truckers lining the road to the prison to which Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Charo were being transported in the late 1960's. Transported after they were convicted by The Department of Justice under Robert Kennedy (wonderfully played by Kevin Anderson), for jury tampering and attempted bribery. A conviction obtained by DOJ's finally getting a high union official, Pete Connelly (wonderfully played by John C. Reilly), to testify and reveal that Hoffa and mob kingpin Carol D'Allesandro had agreed to swap Mob protection services for IBT strikers and profits for the Mob, for profits for the union's members from the Mob's investment of union monies from the IBT pension fund. (The IBT pension fund evidently benefitted substantially from its Mob-made investments, and there was never a showing that Jimmy Hoffa or Bobby Charo benefitted personally from them.)
Armand Assante, looking a bit glengarry, by HungryBackspace at Flickr (2008)
At this point, I feel like I've dwelled on the movie's complexities and ignored its essence and significance. In fact, the movie fit very well into a period of extreme violence in American movies in 1992 -- but its politics and aesthetics were directly contrary to the politics of most of these violent movies. In general, other violence-genre movies from the days of Dirty Harry in the early 1970's until 1992 were, in effect if not intent, simple-mindedly supportive of America's exploitative political economy at home and illegal wars abroad.
For having politics directly opposed to that when it appeared in 1992, Hoffa the movie was effectively "disappeared" from the minds of the moviegoers in this country, by the persons and institutions who were responsible for America's wars abroad and social backwardness at home in 1992, and who still are today, on the day we honor labor, September 7, 2009.