No matter how much it irks the powers that be in the modern Teamsters union, the first thing that pops into most peoples’ minds when they hear the word “Teamsters” is Jimmy Hoffa and all the attendant mob baggage that came with him. Just as the Teamsters Union as an organization is struggling to emerge from those unsavory associations, so, too, is the current Teamsters president James P. Hoffa trying to step out from his father’s shadows.
Yet, the Teamsters of the 21st century is not nearly as powerful or wealthy an organization as his father’s Teamsters of the last century. Membership is down and a civil war between factions loyal to Hoffa and a less wellknown insurgent wracks the organization.
It’s in this weakened condition that the Teamsters are struggling to organize a union within the nationwide freight company Overnite Transportation. Overnite has resisited the Teamsters organizing efforts for years. Now, as contract negotiations break down between the company’s management and its workers, the Teamsters launch a potentially crippling strike against the trucking giant; a zero-sum showdown the outcome of which will determine the fate of Hoffa, his union, and, not incidentally, the company and its workers.
Director Kristi Jacobson has crafted a compelling and informative look at the modern labor union in “American Standoff.” Combining historical footage of Jimmy Hoffa in his heyday with insightful interviews of his son and the players on both sides of the increasingly bitter strike, the film is a raw and brutally honest look at the state of unions today.
“American Standoff” follows the strike from its early heady days of packed picket lines, protests and potluck dinners to the plight of its hard-core stragglers, still hanging on some two years later.
The Teamsters predicted the strike would last for three weeks.
A remarkable tale of resilience and passion, “American Standoff” shows that while some ultimately, inevitably cave in to the pressure, others survive as best as they can while maintaining true to their principles.
The bad news is Jacobson’s film sort of leaves its audience hanging. After the huge build-up about the fate of the Teamsters depending on the outcome of the strike, after seducing the audience into developing rooting interests in the lives of the people depicted, “American Standoff” sort of goes out with a whimper. With the strike nominally still in effect but with no end in sight and with most of the protagonists having found other work, Jacobson simply seems to have run out of characters to follow. It’s almost as if the filmmakers decided that since no dramatic conclusion appeared to be forthcoming any time soon, it was best to take the money and run.
Which is a shame, because every standoff deserves a resolution. And up until its bailout ending, “American Standoff” portrays a complex and important showdown in a powerful and dramatic light.