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HOFFA – David Newman


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa remains one of the United States’s most intriguing mysteries. Hoffa was a union leader with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Detroit, an important man with political influence, but who was also involved with a number of criminal organizations, including the mafia. Hoffa went missing in 1975 after leaving to have a meeting with two local organized crime kingpins; to this day his body has never been found and, although he was declared legally dead in 1982, speculation about his fate and what exactly happened to him remains rife. This film, directed by Danny DeVito and written by David Mamet, looks back at Hoffa’s life and ends with his mysterious disappearance. Jack Nicholson plays Hoffa, and DeVito plays Robert Ciaro, an amalgamation of several Hoffa associates over the years. The film also features John C. Reilly, Robert Prosky, Kevin Anderson, Armand Assante, and J. T. Walsh in key supporting roles. The film was a modest critical and commercial hit; it earned two Oscar nominations for Cinematography and Makeup, and Nicholson received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

The score for Hoffa was by David Newman, and was the third of the six films where he collaborated with director DeVito, following on from Throw Momma from the Train in 1988 and The War of the Roses in 1990, with Matilda (1996), Death to Smoochy (2002), and Duplex (2003) coming later. In the early 1990s David Newman was regularly scoring between three and six major studio films a year – comedies and dramas, action movies and animations – and Hoffa is one of his standout works of the period. It was his fourth and final feature score of 1992 after Honeymoon in Vegas, The Mighty Ducks, and That Night, and was in the conversation for a Best Score Oscar nomination, but ultimately that didn’t happen.

The thing that makes Hoffa so special is its scope; although the film in reality is a reasonably low-key political drama/thriller, Newman scores it with the emotional depth of a Greek melodrama, and in doing so lifts up Hoffa into the pantheon of near-mythic heroes. It’s a big, bold, fully orchestral work that explores the dark side of Hoffa’s character, his shady dealings and his unscrupulous partnerships with mob bosses, but which also paints Hoffa as something of a tragic anti-hero, making him sympathetic to audiences in spite of his illegal actions. It’s a clever trick that DeVito and Newman pull here, making you root for a guy who, in the eyes of many, deserved everything that he got. DeVito made no bones about the fact that he wanted to portray Hoffa in a mostly positive light, and Newman’s approach to the score makes sense when understand this key element of the film itself.

The original soundtrack album for Hoffa actually opens with the finale, “Hoffa End Credits,” which is the emotional and thematic high point of the entire score, and sets things in motion in the most rousing way possible. The way the track builds and builds over the course of almost eight minutes – noble horns, stirring strings, a Golden Age sweep, darkness and light blended together – is just outstanding, and the spine-tingling crescendo around the 3:25 mark remains one of the high points of Newman’s career in terms of thematic consonance. There’s a little bit of a John Williams sound to some of the textures and arrangements – I especially detected hints of Born on the Fourth of July in some of the solo trumpet writing, likely as a result of Jim Thatcher and Malcolm McNab leading the performances – but this is certainly not a criticism, and instead just underlines how excellent the whole thing is.

The undulating trumpet refrain that plays throughout much of the end credits cue is present in a great deal of the score proper, usually as a recurring motif for Hoffa himself, but cleverly Newman often uses it in different ways. In fact, for quite a lot of the running time, the music he writes is rather ominous, underscoring the threats that shadowed Hoffa his entire life, mostly as a result of the dangerous company he kept. Nevertheless, Newman also allows his theme to rise to the fore in several cues – on an array of moody French horns embedded deeply through the entirety of “RTA Riot & Wake,” more subtly and with a something approaching romantic tenderness in the early parts of “Truck Talk,” and with a sense of optimism and poetic destiny via the switch to strings in the rousing “Trucker Salute”.

Later, it has an ominous militaristic edge in “Ride to the RTA,” where it is often surrounded by vaguely sinister snare drum riffs. There is a hopeful, aspirational quality to the performance in “This Man’s Going To Be President,” where again the lead instrumental arrangement is switched from brass to strings. There is more than a hint of tragedy and noble-self sacrifice in the emotional string variation heard in “Jimmy Goes to Jail” and the subsequent “Going to Jail”. The sound of the theme in “Meeting the Mafia” and the subsequent “Loading Dock Riot” is about as dark and threatening as the score gets, and the way Newman phrases his brass here actually reminds me of the way Basil Poledouris phrased his brass in several of his scores for Paul Verhoeven. Finally, in “Jimmy’s Last Ride,” Newman essentially arranges the theme as an elegy, a quiet and dignified salute to a complicated man who did genuinely great work to help common working class folk, but compromised all his morals and integrity in the process.

The album also features some brutal and intense action music that is really quite excellent. The second half of the outstanding “RTA Riot & Wake” is awash in bold, dramatic strokes, undulating piano lines, low and heavy brass phrases, stark stabbing strings, and which sometimes erupts into some challenging, anguished-sounding moments of dissonance that are really effective. The main theme moves slyly throughout the entirety of “Billy Flynn,” before climaxing in a huge, powerful sequence of action and suspense underscoring the scene where Flynn – one of Hoffa’s main lieutenants, played by Robert Prosky – inadvertently sets himself on fire while attempting to blow up a laundromat.

One of the more interesting cues is the original music Newman wrote for the “Hoffa Trailer”. Newman wrote the piece several months before writing the rest of the score, and DeVito used it as inspiration while putting together the final edit; Newman also jokes that he made more money off that one piece than he did the rest of the score, as it was used in literally dozens of trailers for other films over the next few years. It begins with some very early-90s electronic percussion, surrounded by watery synth sounds, but then it explodes into fully-orchestral glory at the 1:30 mark, a resounding statement of the main theme that simply soars with optimistic fervor.

One thing I will say is that, despite the number of variations he writes and tonal shifts he makes, some may find the fact that Newman basically relies on one theme throughout the score a little frustrating, especially for people who like their scores to have a little more thematic depth. There are no secondary motifs worth mentioning – nothing for Hoffa’s relationship with his wife and family, no ‘villain’ motif for the mafia thugs, and so on. What this means is that, as good as the main theme is, anyone who doesn’t immediately connect with it may find Newman’s reliance on it disappointing. Personally, however, I don’t have that problem; the theme captured my attention immediately, and I enjoyed every variation and new arrangement thereafter.

The original album for Hoffa was released by Fox Records in early 1993, and featured a reasonably generous running time of just under 45-minutes. In 2020 La-Land Records released a 2000-unit limited edition expanded version of the score which re-arranged the music into a more sensible chronological order – including placing the End Credits at the actual end! – and features more than 30 minutes of additional music, including previously unreleased cues and bonus tracks. The album was produced by Mike Matessino and Neil S. Bulk, and featured exclusive, in-depth liner notes by writer Tim Greiving. It gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Hoffa remains one of David Newman’s all-time greatest ‘serious’ scores. As the 1990s progressed Newman became increasingly typecast as a composer of silly comedy scores – many of which were for highly successful films in terms of box office, but which didn’t offer the same levels of complexity or gravitas that projects like Hoffa did. It’s a shame too; projects like Hoffa, as well as later scores like Operation Dumbo Drop, The Phantom, Anastasia, Brokedown Palace, Galaxy Quest, and The Affair of the Necklace, prove that David Newman is a composer of taste, sophistication, and emotional depth, with an adept mastery of the orchestra, and a knack for memorable themes. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people hold David Newman in such high regard, and have been curious about his more earnest side, Hoffa would be an excellent place to start your explorations.

Buy the Hoffa soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hoffa End Credits (7:58)
  • RTA Riot & Wake (6:56)
  • Truck Talk (3:07)
  • Trucker Salute (1:10)
  • Ride to the RTA (3:19)
  • This Man’s Going To Be President (1:32)
  • Hoffa Trailer (2:15)
  • First Transition (1:05)
  • Billy Flynn (4:05)
  • Jimmy Goes To Jail (2:43)
  • Meeting the Mafia (1:17)
  • Loading Dock Riot (0:48)
  • Going to Jail (1:07)
  • Bobby’s Cell (1:43)
  • Ants at a Picnic (1:10)
  • Mob Negotiations (0:54)
  • Jimmy’s Last Ride (0:59)
  • First Transition (1:09)
  • Truck Talk (5:10)
  • Loading Dock Riot (0:50)
  • Bobby Attacks Hoffa (1:54)
  • Billy Flynn (4:44)
  • Friend to Labor/Bobby’s ID (1:28)
  • Meeting the Mafia (1:21)
  • Mob Negotiations (0:57)
  • This Man’s Going To Be President (1:34)
  • Ride to the RTA (3:22)
  • Gunshots (1:11)
  • RTA Riot and Wake (6:59)
  • Things to Do (0:59)
  • Ants at a Picnic (1:11)
  • Battle Stations (0:50)
  • Who Are You?/Betrayal (3:35)
  • Jimmy Goes to Jail (2:46)
  • Going to Jail (1:14)
  • Trucker Salute (1:14)
  • Bobby’s Cell (1:46)
  • Bobby & Fitz/Blow Up (1:34)
  • Waitin’ (0:33)
  • Road House Death (1:35)
  • Jimmy’s Last Ride (1:01)
  • Hoffa End Credits (8:02)
  • Truck Talk (Alternate) (2:56) BONUS
  • Billy Flynn (Alternate) (4:14) BONUS
  • This Man’s Going To Be President (Alternate) (1:29) BONUS
  • Gunshots (Alternate) (1:11) BONUS
  • Battle Stations (Alternate) (0:51) BONUS
  • Jimmy Goes to Jail (Film Version) (2:47) BONUS
  • Trucker Salute (Film Version) (1:11) BONUS
  • Bobby & Fitz/Blow Up (Alternate) (1:45) BONUS
  • Road House Death (Alternate) (1:42) BONUS
  • Hoffa Trailer (2:19) BONUS

Running Time: 42 minutes 08 seconds – Original
Running Time: 77 minutes 24 seconds – Expanded

Fox Records 07822 11001-2 (1992) – Original
La-La Land Records LLLCD 1524 (1992/2020) – Expanded

Music composed and conducted by David Newman. Orchestrations by David Newman and Randy Miller. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Tom Villano. Original album produced by David Newman. Expanded album produced by Mike Matessino and Neil S. Bulk.

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