Film Reviews

Review: ‘Framing John DeLorean’

Hot Docs 2019


Framing John DeLorean
(USA, 109)
Dir. Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” says newspaperman Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The line epitomizes larger than life celebrities who shape American folklore as tabloids and reality blur, and as audiences too often find themselves contended by digestible fictions, rather than facts.

The line echoes throughout Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott’s Framing John DeLorean. In fact, they quote it while chronicling the fascinating, almost too crazy to believe, life story of auto-baron turned cocaine smuggling crook John DeLorean. This engaging docudrama hybrid runs with the legend of DeLorean by playfully mixing conventional profile documentary elements—archives, talking heads, etc.—with dramatic re-enactments that liberally interpret the man’s mythology. Alec Baldwin plays DeLorean with ample gusto, and it’s no wonder that DeLorean himself once wanted the star to play him in one of the many proposed movies about his life that never ended up being made.

The film recounts DeLorean’s dramatic rise and fall during his ambitious years at General Motors where he ascended the ranks by challenging the automaker to produce cars that were bigger than better. The bulk of the film looks at his attempt to build his own automobile empire by launching the stainless steel hot rod the DeLorean, a consumer-grade sports car with snazzy doors that opened vertically. The car, made iconic in Back to the Future, remains a novelty and an emblem of a man who refused to play by the rules while wanting too much.

Joyce, Argott, Baldwin, and company dive into the seedier side of DeLorean’s story to unpack the case that made DeLorean a tabloid travesty when he was caught in a coke deal he hoped would finance production of his wayward car. Baldwin offers a sympathetic and hugely entertaining interpretation of the man that finds a fine balance between fact and legend: he’s never larger than life, but it’s often hard to forget that DeLorean is a man and not a movie character. Sometimes the fact and the legend are one and the same.

Framing John DeLorean opens June 7.