Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988) Francis Ford Coppola
Production Budget: $23 million
Gross: Only US numbers $19 million
Tucker is based on the real life story of Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges). Tucker originally made his small fortune on designing plane turrets during WWII. Tucker had plans to revolutionize the auto industry with his new car which would have safety features, a streamlined design, and a feature about headlights which turned along with the steering wheel. Tucker finds himself challenged by the big three auto makers and later faces an indictment for fraud.
A great director is somebody who doesn’t draw attention to himself and in the case of Tucker, Coppola is trying WAAAAAY too hard. Coppola is trying to give the movie a whimsical and fun but it comes off as cloying and annoying. The soundtrack is always blaring big band music and other music from the day and the camera is constantly doing some flashy trick. You can’t just have a two shot of Jeff Bridges and Joan Allen talking on a phone, we have to have Joan Allen’s giant superimposed head over a shot of Jeff Bridges talking in a phone booth. We can’t just have Tucker get the inspiration for a car and express it through acting or writing. No, we have to have Tucker spinning on a stool going “WOOOOOOO!!!“ while the camera spins along with Tucker and that transitions to a spinning magazine shot which then transitions to a newsreel type montage. Only its not done in a traditional black and white newsreel of the day. We have to mix in black and white with color and have Tucker walk in a seamless transition from his living room to his automobile plant all the while Benny Goodman is blaring over the soundtrack.
After twenty minutes I was psychically pleading with the Francis Ford Coppola of the past to calm the fuck down. In this case, I really don’t want someone trying to make the next Godfather. I would rather have some unknown who is more content with telling a good story than going through a filmmaker mid-life crisis.
I also have a problem with Tucker himself and I have no idea whether to pin it on the direction, the acting, or the writing. Part of Tucker appears to be a big phony which may be due to Bridges. Bridges always has this broad fake grin which borders on creepy. Maybe Coppola told Bridges to always be jocular but it comes off as Bridges hamming it up. He just doesn’t come off as a real person when he only has one expression and that is to blow up the wide angle lens with a toothy pervy grin.
Beyond the hammy performance, Tucker is not someone I can really get behind. Sure, he is a dreamer and I guess you can admire his goals in changing the auto industry. The writing paints Tucker as a person with absolutely no business savvy or even that much common sense. Within two seconds of signing over majority control of his business to stockbrokers he is shocked (SHOCKED) to find out they want to take the company in a direction Tucker doesn’t want to go. Tucker has ideas for example like a front end piece where the headlights move where the steering wheel goes but doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to know that can’t work so a middle headlight is made. That is only one relatively small issue. Now imagine Tucker trying to deal with running an entire auto industry and you feel like even if Tucker was allowed to make his car the business would go bankrupt within the decade. Usually in these stories we have someone who is so brilliant as to be a game changer but is held down by the old establishment. In Tucker it feels like you have an irresponsible fool who suckered some investors with the auto equivalent of snake oil.
So now that I have covered the acting and the writing I guess that leaves the direction of the character. Tucker never feels like a fully realized person. You see several scenes of him grinning in front of his family, but you never get the impression of how he really was as a parent/husband. He is a dreamer, but we are never really told what drives him. I guess we do see him as a businessman, but that is hardly flattering. If he isn’t failing he is kind of a dick to his employees. For example, one of the Tuckers nearly fall on one of his employees and instead of checking on the employee he bitches about getting the car done on time. And even when this behavior is pointed out to Tucker, he never apologizes.
Maybe I am being too critical of this movie. After all, while flashy, there is nothing horribly wrong with the cinematography. Francis Ford Coppola clearly idealizes Tucker and wants to paint him as a gigantic underdog. I suppose you could say I am being too harsh when it comes to the acting and how the filmmakers really wanted to show how Tucker was this big hero. I personally don’t believe I was in a bad mood going in but that the movie just rubbed me the wrong way. I failed to be caught up in the underdog story, I failed to find myself identifying with Tucker, and I failed to find the movie charming or entertaining. The writing is very flawed, the acting is hammy, and Coppola’s zeal in telling this story is actually harming the final product.