REVIEW: Framing John DeLorean [2019]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 109 minutes
    Release Date: June 7th, 2019 (USA)
    Studio: Sundance Selects
    Director(s): Don Argott & Sheena M. Joyce
    Writer(s): Dan Greeney & Alexandra Orton

He is open to interpretation.

I was three when Back to the Future immortalized John DeLorean‘s namesake automobile the DMC-12 (known plainly as the DeLorean since no other model was produced). Doc Brown’s time machine was therefore unsurprisingly the extent of what my mind could associate with the former visionary of General Motors who continuously found himself flying close enough to the sun to harness its power and ultimately be destroyed by it. So it was confusing to watch Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce‘s comical procession of filmmakers who were once attached to an “Untitled John DeLorean Project” at the start of their Framing John DeLorean since one car didn’t seem enough to warrant multiple Hollywood treatments. His being charged with cocaine trafficking when I was nine months old, however, surely did.

Suddenly the title earned double meaning. Just as I began understanding it as an allusion to the fact so many different artists hoped to bring his story to the big screen by figuring out the correct way to “frame” his legacy, the introduction of this crime and the distinct possibility that he was entrapped (or colloquially “framed”) arrived to infuse mystery and suspense where only curiosity had existed. The directors (alongside screenwriters Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton) lean into this duality with their finished product by enlisting familiar faces (Alec Baldwin plays John) to reenact certain scenes that both serve to bring their interviewees’ words to life and also double-down on the notion that DeLorean’s entire life might have been built upon a façade hiding much darker truths.

So while we first listen to those aforementioned filmmakers to build-up excitement as far as the intelligence, wealth, sex appeal, and drugs soon to be put on display, it’s but an appetizer. The filmmakers whet our appetite, bring Baldwin in to embody this man who’s since died while also commentating on him from his make-up chair, and provide a quick run-down of DeLorean’s risk-taking successes. From there comes a collection of people spanning historians (Tamir Ardon), friends/partners (Bill Collins), and family (DeLorean’s children Zach and Kathryn) to tell their sides of the whirlwind few years that surrounded his post-GM dream of building a small, energy-efficient, and affordable vehicle that could last twenty-five years or more. It’s history lesson, editorial, and crime drama all rolled into one.

And for the most part it works. The back and forth is structured well enough for the re-enactments to supply context to what’s happening. Sometimes it’s a scene behind closed doors between John and his model wife Cristina Ferrare (Morena Baccarin) or with his trusted engineer Bill Collins (Josh Charles) engaged in conversation before the real Collins comes on-screen to discuss things in more personal detail. The segments that don’t work quite as well are the ones where Baldwin interacts with the government sting’s operators. Because those tapes exist and are included anyway—albeit in low quality—the performances become more distracting than useful. Watching Dana Ashbrook, Jason Jones, and Dean Winters portray these DEA agents is fun, but at what cost to the film’s overall dramatic worth?

It’s tough toeing the line between exposing the artifice of the DeLorean family’s idyllic life and conjuring real suspense when the mystery that’s being uncovered demands it. So while the whole has a tendency to drag when the filmmakers fail to maintain balance, it soars when they do. Whether it’s the captivating involvement of Baldwin for whom we get a glimpse of his acting process and the psychological connection shared being a famous celebrity married to a woman half his age or scenes of emotional potency we wouldn’t receive via talking head interviews (DeLorean and Collins’ phone call or Cristina confronting John the day of his verdict), having more than words and photographs helps. This isn’t American Animals, though. The reenactments are more conceptual in nature than informational.

That’s okay because Argott and Joyce corralled a robust list of people to also flesh out a truth obstructed by magazine covers and tabloid talk shows. To include what the DeLorean plant in Northern Ireland meant socially and economically beyond earning John’s salary also lets the tragedy of its demise possess the necessary weight his missteps and shady dealings almost erased. A company like DMC is more than just the man at the top and it did ultimately realize his promise no matter how fleeting its success proved. Eventually hubris, greed, and naiveté rear their heads to topple one more untouchable captain of industry and we hear the pain in the voices of workers interviewed when the plant closed and that of the children John left behind today.

It’s this cost that sticks because it didn’t all happen in a vacuum and some of the bad decisions were initiated with altruistic intent. That complexity is what makes DeLorean’s life film-ready, not whether he accomplished his goals or was sent to prison in the interim. The directors do well to acknowledge that nobody involved epitomizes this better than Zach and his anger towards what occurred. Does he still love his father? Yes. But it’s not enough to cloud his judgment where the man’s mistakes are concerned. He’s the one who knows you can’t end John’s story at some arbitrary moment because it provides the Hollywood redemption he never actually earned. In the end John DeLorean’s heights and depths still led to a death like many others: alone.

[1] Alec behind stage for ballroom scene with slate clap. Courtesy of NICOLE RIVELLI Photographie. A Sundance Selects Release.
[2] Alec and Josh and Morena on stage in front on DMC prototype. Courtesy of NICOLE RIVELLI Photographie. A Sundance Selects Release.
[3] Alec posing with Production DMC leaning on fender. Courtesy of NICOLE RIVELLI Photographie. A Sundance Selects Release.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.