Unbelievable Story is Key to ‘Framing John DeLorean’

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CHICAGO – The story of auto impresario John DeLorean is definitely one of truth is stranger than fiction, but also has a basis in “what ifs?” The fascinating new documentary of his life tells that story, breaking down the vagueness of how a former General Motors superstar got involved in a drug deal to save his own car company. As always, a situation like that has more loopholes.

There is an strange homage, in a sense, to re-creating scenes in documentaries, with actor Alec Baldwin portraying John DeLorean. But Baldwin also participates in telling the story, often in his DeLorean makeup, and this meta approach is a definite mixed bag. The most interesting participant is DeLorean’s son Zach, now living a middle class life after being the boy who had it all. His coarseness and directness is the most refreshing part of JD’s past, told from the point of view from someone whose life is completely different than what he thought it would be. That’s way more intriguing than putting black eyebrows on Alec Baldwin.

John Zachary DeLorean came up through the automotive ranks in the Mad Men era, becoming the youngest division head at General Motors after taking over the Pontiac brand and inventing the muscle car craze. After success with developing the GTO, Firebird and Grand Prix, DeLorean was itching for his own concept, and quit GM at his peak to form the DeLorean Motor Company.

Alec Baldwin, Morena Baccarin and Josh Charles in ‘Framing John DeLorean’
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

He spent the better part of the 1970s raising capital and designing his DeLorean concept car. With a stainless steel body, gull wing doors and unique design, it was promoted as a car that would drive for 25 years. He shocked the industry by building his plant near Belfast, Northern Ireland, and proceeded to manufacture the car at a high rate of production. His rush to produce caused problems for the car, and problems for the British government, who wouldn’t fund him anymore. He needed another way to finance his dream.

That “other way” was the drug deal, which involved DeLorean rolling the dice by financing a cocaine purchase. He was busted, but later found not guilty by reason of entrapment. That might have made a good end to a roller coaster story, but it was followed by the bankruptcy of the car company and an exploration of DeLorean’s handling of financing, which eventually exposed the real sin in all the sinning.

Alec Baldwin was certainly game to play the auto man in various phases of his life, but his constant reflection on his character becomes counter to the story. The filmmakers, Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, were doing a great job unraveling the series of events, especially the complexities of the web of financing and cocaine deal bust. They also had a amazing interview subject in Zach DeLorean, the adopted son of John, who definitely had a foul-mouthed chip on his shoulder in regards to what went down. Zach, along with his sister Kathryn, are captivating in their fortunes-lost status, and always had a thought-proving observation on the old man.

The Real Man and His Machine in ‘Framing John DeLorean’
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

The re-creations are okay, but once it’s revealed that Baldwin is stepping in on the picture, the flashbacks look a bit cheap. The meta stuff regarding his commentary is sometimes provocative, but most of the time overstated. I realize that Baldwin considers himself a philosopher king, but talking to the real players was much more substantial. Also there is a good-point question … why hasn’t a major film explored the life of DeLorean, or at least the cool parts of it? There is a funny sequence that starts the doc exposing a parade of wannabe producers who have pitched a feature.

One of the crucial interviews is with DeLorean’s Irish plant manager, who laments that if they’d just held on for a couple more years, “Back to the Future” and its use of the DeLorean could have solved their problems. The life of John DeLorean is a perfect example of woulda, coulda, shoulda. But where he is now, they don’t need roads.

“Framing John DeLorean” screens locally at The Catlow Theater, 116 West Main, Barrington, Illinois, and is available through Video On Demand. See TV providers for details. Featuring re-creations and interviews with Alec Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Josh Charles, Zach DeLorean, Kathryn DeLorean and Bob Gale. Written by Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton. Directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Not Rated.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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