The John DeLorean story has it all: Cars, cocaine, supermodels, countries at war, political scuffles on both sides of the Atlantic, an FBI sting of ridiculous proportions, secret off-shore bank accounts, deception, avarice, opulence, and ego. It could be a modern-day fairy tale parents tell their children as a reminder not to fly too close to the sun or fashion your wings out of something more durable than wax.
But the John DeLorean story is no fairy tale. Embellishments are unnecessary because, like the strangest stories, the truth is much more captivating.
It begins, more or less, in 1956 with DeLorean accepting a job at General Motors in the Pontiac department, i.e., the old folks’ division. DeLorean saw potential and put a tiger in Pontiac’s tank with the GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato). GM hated the car, and they hated the name. But DeLorean saw something the brass at GM couldn’t: A youth culture was coming of age, and they were really into cars.
The GTO propelled GM’s sales and DeLorean’s cachet. It kept him employed, but it didn’t endear him to the button-ups at GM. Sure, they saw dollar signs when they looked at DeLorean, but they also saw a plastic chin, open collar, bushy sideburns, and promiscuous ways. DeLorean decided to beat the bastards at their own game by building his own company, the DeLorean Motor Company, fashioning a brand new automobile and taking the world by storm.
And he did until the bottom dropped out.
Though many films about DeLorean have been in the works, the documentary Framing John DeLorean from filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce is the first to the silver screen. Trying to put a frame around DeLorean’s life is no easy task, but Argott and Joyce succeed thanks to a wealth of archival recordings, hidden camera footage from the FBI, interviews with DeLorean’s two kids, and a series of re-enactments starring Alec Baldwin as the fabled car manufacturer. Argott and Joyce even allow Baldwin to explain his process of portraying DeLorean.
The result is a multi-layered analysis of a multi-faceted man. Not everything here can be digested on the first viewing, and you’re likely to leave Framing John DeLorean thinking DeLorean was either the American dream incarnate or the American reality inevitable.
What comes through strongest is how there is no end of second chances for the wealthy in this country—especially if you are white and male. DeLorean was a wrecking ball of a man. Inventive and visionary, sure, but look at what his life has amounted to for his children. Shady dealings caused DeLorean to lose DMC, but it’s the people who worked for him, invested in him, and partnered with him who lost even more.
To this end, Argott and Joyce hang DeLorean out to dry and give his son the last laugh. It’s a chilling reminder: Your children will be the ones who remember you. If you’re lucky, they’ll have nice things to say.
Framing John DeLorean (2019)
Written and directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
Produced by Tamir Ardon, Don Argott, Daryl Freimark, Sheena M. Joyce, Nick Spicer
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Josh Charles, Morena Baccarin, Dean Winters, Michael Rispoli, Dana Ashbrook, Jason Jones, Josh Cooke, Sean Cullen, William Hill
Sundance Selects, Not rated, Running time 109 minutes, Opened June 7, 2019.
The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 26, No. 44, “Hubris is for rookies.”
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