Jack Nicholson stars in this biopic about corrupt and mob-connected union leader Jimmy Hoffa, with Danny DeVito both directing and playing Hoffa’s closest friend and associate. Several things ruin it: plodding direction by DeVito, a dodgy performance from Nicholson (he’s basically doing an impression of Hoffa rather than actually playing the character, and his impression is wildly inconsistent, especially in terms of the exaggerated nasal Hoffa voice that he only uses about half the time), and a misguided decision to try to heroise Hoffa. Funnily enough, in terms of acting, I thought DeVito’s performance in this was the best I’ve seen from him.
I was looking forward to this but was disappointed, possibly because it suffers by comparison to the other Robert Altman film I’d previously seen – the wonderful Nashville. Tim Robbins is fine and the many celebrity cameos are quite funny, but as satire I don’t think it succeeds. Still, there’s that excellent self-referential opening shot that lasts for almost eight minutes without a single cut (and features characters talking about previous films that used similar techniques).
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I didn’t realise the ‘Hoo-ah!’ typically used by comedians doing impressions of Al Pacino came from this movie (for some reason I had thought it was more of a generic over-the-top Pacino-esque expression). To me this represents the turning point for Pacino, an actor I regard as one of the greats; it’s a huge and easy-to-counter generalisation, but basically everything before this had the good (often brilliant) young Pacino and everything after it had the old hammy caricature of Pacino. Anyway, to the movie itself: like Pacino’s performance, it’s certainly not subtle but it’s quite effective. Despite the length and occasional cheese, it’s hard not to get swept up in the story of an arsehole-with-a-heart-of-gold (Pacino) and a timid-but-otherwise-flawless-student (an impressive young Chris O’Donnell) who fix each other over the course of a weekend in New York. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a small role and despite only being 25 and playing a fellow student, he seems – as always – middle-aged.
Long but engaging biopic of – you guessed it – Malcolm X. Denzel Washington is superb in the title role and – since I watched this just a few weeks after Scent of a Woman – I feel qualified to say he was robbed at the Oscars; his searing portrayal of Malcolm X was far more deserving than Pacino’s ‘Hoo-ahs!’. As any good biopic does, it immediately left me wanting to find out more about the subject. A criticism: Al Freeman Jr’s portrayal of Elijah Muhammad is laughably bad, an SNL-style caricature, detracting from the (numerous) scenes he appears in. Look for Wendell Pierce (The Wire), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos), Richard Schiff (The West Wing) and Nelson Mandela (real life).
Disappointing adaptation of a great novel. It tells the story faithfully – almost slavishly so – but lacks the power of the source material. It also has a slightly TV-movie-ish feel to it, for some reason. Gary Sinise is good as George, but his direction is fairly plodding. John Malkovich overacts as Lennie; perhaps if I’d never seen Malkovich before, I would have bought his performance here, but since I have, it just came across as laboured, hammy, and borderline offensive. John Terry is quite good as Slim. I’d advise avoiding this and reading (or rereading) the book instead.