Francis Ford Coppola’s Overlooked Biopic ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream’ Finally Rolls Out on Blu-ray

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Tucker: The Man and His Dream

It’s not hard to see why Francis Ford Coppola would be fascinated by the automaker Preston Tucker. There’s a certain kindred spirit between the legendary filmmaker and the maverick automaker. Coppola directed some of the greatest films of all time and always had his eyes looking towards the future. Preston Tucker was also looking forward with his proposed line of cars, the Tucker ’48. Whether it’s Coppola or Tucker, neither was rewarded for their foresight. Instead each encountered their own share of financial hardships and professional turmoil. It’s only fitting that Coppola would be the one to bring Preston Tucker’s story to the screen in Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which finally has landed on Blu-ray. Tucker: The Man and His Dream has aged well, a brisk, well-acted biopic that stands as one of Coppola’s better overlooked films.

After building turrets in the war, Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges) has his sights sets on the world of auto manufacturing. Of course, starting your own car company isn’t exactly something you can just start in your garage. Preston is able to get engineer Alex Tremulis (Elias Koteas) and financier Abe Karatz (Martin Landau) to join his team, which also includes his wife Vera (Joan Allen) and eldest son Preston, Jr (Christian Slater). In order to get the Tucker Corporation off the ground, Preston Tucker sells stock in his burgeoning company as Abe assembles a board and secures a manufacturing facility. Tucker’s goals in his new automobile are revolutionary – a focus on safety features that are now commonplace, such as seatbelts and disc brakes. When Preston Tucker embarks on a publicity tour, he returns to a board isn’t interested in his grand ideas and throwing all sorts of obstacles in his way. Matters get further complicated when the big three automakers in America pool their resources to put the squeeze on the young Tucker Corporation. Then things get even worse when Tucker is charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with stock fraud, alleging that Tucker planned to keep the money raised and never manufacture a car.

Preston Tucker was at the cutting edge of his industry and it cost him everything. The same is true of Francis Ford Coppola. The acclaimed director produced films under his American Zoetrope company, and used the independence afforded to back his own projects. One From the Heart, an ambitious musical, ran extremely overbudget and put Coppola on shaky financial footing. Undaunted, Coppola became an early adopter of digital technology in cinema, including non-linear video editing. But early technology is shaky and imperfect, and being at the cutting edge without many major hits basically expended all of his capital as his own producer and as an A-list director. And yet Coppola is still tinkering with imperfect technology, as he did in a Comic-Con presentation for Twixt where he teased a live edit of his film for audiences, though that never came to be. The connection between the director and his subject in Tucker is truly striking and the bond has only grown stronger over subsequent years.

Despite the revolutionary nature of Coppola and Tucker, the film itself isn’t a daring stylistic exercise. Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a rather classically styled biopic, with a narrator setting the stage before events unfold in sequential order. And that’s not say that Tucker is a drab, stylistically bland work of cinema. Instead it’s much more vibrant than you’d believe thanks in part to the film’s great production and costume design (the film received Oscar nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design) which pops off the screen because of the brilliant cinematography from the great Vittorio Storaro. Coppola, of course, has a great eye for staging and blocking scenes so that even the most tame scene of board meetings is visually appealing. There’s a classical nature to Coppola’s mise-en-scène and the legendary filmmaker employs some neat tricks to really fill out the frame, such as combining two locations into a single set giving the scene the illusion of being a split screen.

The special features on the new Blu-ray of Tucker: The Man and His Dream includes an audio commentary with Francis Ford Coppola. There’s also an introduction with Coppola where he recounts his family’s interest in Tucker’s cars and the genesis of the project, and even admits to the constant comparisons between the filmmaker and the automaker. A lone and fascinating deleted scene made its way onto the disc with optional commentary by Coppola, and the grainy old video shows just how Coppola’s early adoption of digital video technology allowed the excised scene to be preserved for 30 years. Vintage featurettes from the film’s production and initial publicity tour have also found their way onto the disc. All in all, Tucker: The Man and His Dream has plenty of special features new and old that shed more light on this overlooked Coppola classic.

Americans love stories of self-made men (I’d include women, but, you know, America) who follow their dreams and are rewarded with fame and riches. What about those self-made men who were ahead of their time and fell through the cracks, their dreams stifled and riches squandered chasing an unobtainable dream. Tucker: The Man and His Dream isn’t pulled from the pages of Horatio Alger. Instead it’s a tale all too common in America – that of an immensely powerful vested interest that squashes competition and innovation to maintain their ironclad grip on a fading industry. Broader audiences reject these stories because they don’t fill us with the hope and optimism of the American Dream. General audiences want that feelgood story that’ll make them proud of the red, white, and blue. Tucker: The Man and His Dream is an all-American story. It’s just not the one that everyone wants to hear.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

A dreamer with his sights set on revamping the auto industry only to make powerful enemies who would derail his dream, the life and ambition of Tucker Preston is the subject of Francis Ford Coppola’s lively biopic Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which has finally comes to Blu-ray.

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