The true life story of Preston Tucker, a maverick car designer who fought the car industry to create and manufacture his own dream car, The Tucker Torpedo.
It is impossible to ignore the parallels between the subject of this stylish biopic and its director, Francis Coppola. Just as Preston Tucker tried to forge his own factory to manufacture a range of luxury cars in opposition to the big 3 Detroit automobile companies, Coppola attempted to build his own studio — American Zoetrope — and create his own personal brand of cinema miles away from the spectre of Hollywood studio interference. That both men ultimately failed in their aspirations should make Tucker: The Man And His Dream a depressing experience, but in fact, it is a joyous celebration of the maverick American spirit, even if never really gets under the skin of its flawed hero.
Jeff Bridges attacks the role of Tucker — part inventor, part con artists, all showman — with a mile wide grin and an optimism that would make a Scientologist look morose. Cosseted by his big family and regular collaborators (more Coppola traits), Tucker’s attempts to build his dream machine — a terrific looking vehicle, it’s special feature is a third headlight that turns in the same direction as the steering wheel — creating a prototype out of junkyard detritus, and then promoting the product to a sceptical public (the unveiling of the car sees a fire backstage) are engaging. Kudos here to an Oscar nominated Martin Landau as Tucker’s ageing right hand man, who adds a subtle counterpoint to Bridges’ big performance.
But what really pulls you through the movie is its high style. Shot with all the sharpness and colours of a 1940s billboard, Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is sumptuous and endlessly imaginative, including a theatrical use of transitions between scenes that kidnap the breathe.
If you wanted to nit-pic, you could argue that the film doesn’t delve to deeply into Tucker’s motivations or character — this is much more about the dream than the man — and Coppola ignores the darker undertones inherent in its story of thwarted ambition and the little man being crushed by huge corporations. But it remains a gorgeous entertaining evocation of both a fascinating period and a little known American huckster.
A revealing and heartfelt biopic that follows what happens when the American Dream fails to materialise into reality.