“Framing John DeLorean,” the new documentary by John Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, presents the infamous story of the automotive innovator in a manner that is positively nutty.
The narrative of DeLorean’s early days as an automotive innovator, his radical approach to creating the car baring his namesake and his spectacular downfall is presented in a straightforward, polished manner.
News clips, archival and surveillance footage, audio recordings and home movies create a picture that is clear and brisk. Then, there’s the decision to stage reenactments of DeLorean’s life, with the man played by Alec Baldwin, who also appears out of character to discuss his process in finding DeLorean.
This out-of-left-field inclusion to an already tight work isn’t always effective but man, is it fun.
DeLorean’s wild story offers drastic dips into peaks and valleys, particularly during the dramatic second act of his life. While living with his picture perfect family of four on a New Jersey farm, he opened an auto plant in Northern Ireland, during the “troubles,” and hired hard-working but inexperienced factory workers to build the DeLorean car.
At some point, drug dealers, undercover agents, Margaret Thatcher and piles of cocaine enter DeLorean’s world and destroy everything he created. An ironic footnote is how, not long after DeLorean becomes a courtroom regular under investigation, “Back to the Future” opens and provides a massive promotion for his iconic vehicle.
“There were just some things John hid from me… I was married to him for 11 years at that point, and was shocked as I was sitting in the courtroom going, ‘Oh, what?’” @VanityFair chats with Cristina Ferrare about the scandal’s toll on her family life. https://t.co/HxXFkOre4j
— Framing John DeLorean (@framingdelorean) June 18, 2019
His wife, Cristina, is a compelling supporting figure, though the piercing, unguarded words of DeLorean’s son are the most telling; its especially fascinating to hear his feelings (both a distancing rejection and a profound connection) toward his father’s car.
The talking heads are all interesting, particularly Tamir Ardon, identified as a “DeLorean Historian” (!). Yet, the carefully compiled and arranged older footage is the most efficient at driving the narrative, which is always compelling.
There’s a nice use of Ravel’s “Bolero” during one montage and, as more than one individual points out during the documentary, it’s a wonder that (despite failed attempts by various filmmakers) a cinema-ready story like this one has yet to be made into a feature film.
That’s what brings us back to the movie-within-the-documentary, in which Baldwin, “Deadpool” star Morena Baccarin and “Dead Poets Society” co-star Josh Charles appear onscreen, playing John, Cristina and Bill Collins, respectively, in faux movie scenes. We also see them in the make-up chair, commenting on their research and how they view their characters.
FAST FACT: The DeLorean car famously featured in 1985’s “Back to the Future” sold for $541,000 in 2011.
It reminded me of Al Pacino’s great “Looking For Richard” documentary, in which Pacino would perform scenes from Shakespeare’s “Richard III” with other notables, then drop character and spend time pontificating on what he found in each scene. What worked for Pacino seems odd (if intriguingly quirky) here.
RELATED: Baldwin’s Deft Turn (Almost) Makes ‘Blind’ Worth Your While
While the fake movie clips, of a DeLorean movie we’ll never get to see as a whole, are slickly produced and amusing, they’re also stiff. Clearly, the intention was to make the sequences look like a Michael Mann film but the directors clearly aren’t up to Mann’s standards. The clips eventually seem like an intrusion to the documentary’s momentum. Particularly as it builds to the dramatic finale, seeing Baldwin play DeLorean during a famous drug bust isn’t as riveting as seeing the actual footage of DeLorean saying the exact same words.
Still, I have to hand it to the filmmakers, they’ve come up with a novel way of adding to the aesthetic of this genre. While many documentaries feature reenactments, most don’t meditate on the process, let alone give the actors involved (famous or not) a chance to voice their performance method.
As wobbly as the overall work sometimes feels, I’d much rather watch this again than sit through a mediocre, self-important mainstream Hollywood work about DeLorean. There is an unexpected playfulness to “Framing John DeLorean,” which, in addition to the meta material, is a fine work on the subject.