Josh Reviews Tucker: The Man and his Dream
I’ve been having fun watching several of the films that Francis Ford Coppola directed in the eighties that I’d never before seen! (Please click here for my review of The Outsiders, click here for my review of Rumble Fish, and click here for my review of The Cotton Club: Encore.) Soon after watching The Cotton Club, I moved on to Tucker: The Man and his Dream. Jeff Bridges stars as Preston Tucker, who, in the late 1940’s, dreamed of creating a “car of the future” that would completely reinvent the American automobile. However, Tucker’s dream, and his fledgling car company, were soon crushed by the “Big Three” auto manufacturers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler), who were not about to allow some upstart to challenge their control of the manufacture of American cars…
I quite enjoyed this movie! The film captures both sides of America. The film’s early going is practically dripping in sunny Americana, both visually and metaphorically. Master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro gives the early scenes set at the rural Tucker family home a beautiful, magically golden sheen. The optimistic Tucker embodies the can-do American attitude, and the dream that anyone can come up with a great idea and make it big in this country, rising above their station in so doing. The film also shows the dark, greedy underside of Capitalism, and the myriad ways in which the entrenched systems of this country are designed to keep the rich and powerful in charge and the little folks right where they are.
In this, the film is incredibly topical! Tucker: The Man and his Dream was a film made in 1988 and set in 1948, but the film feels very much about our world now. I almost fell off my couch listening to Tucker’s climactic speech, in which he warns that “one day we’re gonna find ourselves at the bottom of the heap instead of king of the hill, having no idea how we got there… buying our radios and our cars from our former enemies!” The film’s concern with the reality of the American experience and our freedom is remarkably prescient.
As is the film’s focus on the crushing challenges of creating art! In the blu-ray’s special features, George Lucas (longtime friend and colleague of Mr. Coppola, who produced this film) sums up the movie by saying that “through this film, people will get a stronger sense of the struggle that a creative person has to bring their ideas into reality.” That’s clearly a topic that resonated strongly with Mr. Coppola and Mr. Lucas, both of whom have made a career of battling with the Hollywood “powers that be” to bring their own unique creative visions to life. It’s also something that resonated very strongly with me.
In my review of The Cotton Club: Encore, I complained that I found the film to be choppy, awkwardly edited and hard to follow. It was a pleasure, then, to move onto this film, where Francis Ford Coppola seemed to once again be back in the saddle as a masterful storyteller. There’s nothing too showy in his direction of the film, but right from the start the storytelling is clear and confident. I was sucked right into the story and carried smoothly along all the way through.
And there are many lovely visual touches in the film. I loved how the opening titles morphed into an old style promotional film about Tucker! That was very clever, and a fun intro to the movie. There are also several wonderfully theatrical transitions in the film, particularly in sequences in which characters are talking to one another on the telephone. Mr. Coppola found several creative ways to allow the characters to be visually connected even when they were physically separated; such as how he allows the camera to pan when, say, Tucker and his wife Vera are talking on the phone, and we can see that the two actors were actually back to back on the same set, just separated by a wall between them.
For me, the only main problem was that, from start to finish, I found the film somewhat hard to watch because it made me very anxious. It was clear to me right from the beginning that this good natured man and his nice family, along with his Dream, would be crushed by the end. I wasn’t eager to see that happen!
Jeff Bridges (whose work from several decades later I recently praised in my review of Bad Times at the El Royale) gives a terrific performance as the leading man. Mr. Bridges is all ebullient enthusiasm in the film. We see how Tucker’s dream could so easily infect those around him, and why his close knit friends, family and coworkers stuck together and worked so hard together.
Martin Landau is delightful as Tucker’s business partner Abe. I loved how Mr. Landau brought such a lovely arc to his performance as Abe. I disliked the stiff, stern Abe when we first meet him in the film… and by the time he was tearfully submitting his resignation to Tucker towards the end, I loved him. Mr. Landau’s performance in that scene, by the way, was absolutely magnificent.
Joan Allen is very solid as Tucker’s wife and faithful partner Vera. There’s not too much depth to this role, unfortunately, but Ms. Allen’s movie-star presence is a delight whenever she’s on screen.
I loved Tucker’s gang of engineers and designers, played by Elias Koteas, Frederick Forrest, Mako, and a very young Christian Slater. I appreciated that Mr. Coppola gave them each the screen-time needed to develop their own distinct character.
I loved seeing Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap, Battlestar Galactica) as Howard Hughes. He’s only in one scene, but it was very memorable. I also was delighted to see Jeff Bridge’s famous father Lloyd Bridges playing Senator Homer Ferguson, one of Tucker’s main adversaries in the story.
In his newly recorded to introduction to the blu-ray of the film, Francis Ford Coppola remarked that “failure is just as valuable an experience as success.” Mr. Coppola was, of course, speaking about both Tucker the man, and also Tucker the film. It’s sad to me that this film, about a visionary whose dreams ultimately ended in failure, was also a failure upon its release in 1988. The film didn’t make its money back when it came out in theaters. But art is about more than making money, a thought that Tucker himself expresses at the end of the film.
While I watched the film dreading the unhappy ending I knew was coming, I was pleased that Mr. Coppola was able to find joy and pleasure for the characters and the audience in the film’s final scenes. At the end of the film, we see that Tucker wasn’t broken by his experiences, but ready to move onto his next dream. I hope that’s actually true. And as for the film: it exists, no matter how much or how little money it made when it was released to theaters more than three decades ago. The film exists, and it’s still here for people like me to discover it for the first time. I’m glad I did.
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