Framing John DeLorean: An oddly successful meta doc about why they should make a movie about John DeLorean

By Jim Slotek

Rating: B-plus

One of the most unusual docs you’ll see, on a doc-worthy subject, Framing John DeLorean is kind of a 110-minute plea for someone to make a movie about John DeLorean.

It opens with a series of soundbites from people involved with several stillborn movie projects about General Motors’ erstwhile golden boy, whose ultimate revenge scheme against his former employers was to design a futuristic car that would show them up.

Alec Baldwin gets to play John DeLorean and talk about what it’s like to play him in Framing John DeLorean

Alec Baldwin gets to play John DeLorean and talk about what it’s like to play him in Framing John DeLorean

History will record that his obsession to make the DMC-12 (best known today as the time-traveling car from Back To The Future) led him down a rabbit hole connecting the Northern Irish “troubles” to Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” to a motel room where he was arrested in 1982 with 100 kilos of cocaine in an FBI “sting.”

At one point, directors Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott (The Art of the Steal) even seek insight by interviewing other documentarians – the legendary D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room), who directed the 1981 pre-sting doc DeLorean.

But framing John DeLorean becomes truly “meta” in the moments when it becomes about the actors playing central characters in dramatized moments – primarily Alec Baldwin as DeLorean, but also Morena Baccarin (Homeland, Gotham) as DeLorean’s wife, supermodel Cristina Ferrare, Josh Charles (The Good Wife) as DeLorean’s longtime engineer and eventually-betrayed friend Bill Collins, and Jason Jones (The Daily Show) as Jerry West, the FBI agent who slapped the cuffs on the auto magnate.

Think of that stuff as the demo reel for the movie this doc wants to see made. Baldwin claims he was phoned by DeLorean, who wanted Baldwin to play him in one of the non-starter movie projects. And he has plenty of ideas about power and corruption and the misuse of the ability to bend rules. 

For her part, Baccarin hedges her bets describing Ferrare’s motivations in defending her husband (maybe because Ferrare is still alive), saying at one point, “this is just me speculating, obviously.”

At times this is a fascinating left turn, akin to the “what motivated your character?” queries actors must answer in interviews promoting a movie. At other times, it is distracting and ephemeral.

But somehow, this occasional pullback from the reality being portrayed manages to make the disparate threads of DeLorean’s life come together more seamlessly.

We follow his career from the ‘50s, when as a young automotive whiz-kid, he turned the Pontiac from a mom-car to a muscle car (the GTO basically inaugurating the ‘60s “muscle car” era – I’m sorry they didn’t have the money to include at least some of Ronnie & the Daytonas’ hit “Little GTO” in the film).

From there it’s the arc of a colourful, moneymaking outlier in an industry full of drab, middle-aged men in suits. DeLorean is all Hollywood with famous girlfriends, cosmetic surgery and a gleaming smile on magazine covers.

There was a built-in animus in that old-school corporate culture against the type of self-promoting corporate exec DeLorean represented. These days, he’d fit right in with the Elon Musks, Mark Cubans and Jeff Bezoses, but we get the sense of him being railroaded out of the GM he helped build. And what’s movie fodder without an overwhelming grudge to feed?

But there are movies in some of the supporting cast too. I was left intensely curious about Zach DeLorean, the couple’s F-bomb dropping adopted son who lives a minimum wage life in a filthy apartment, and Kathryn DeLorean, who grew up with both scandal and, I supect, some challenges being a young woman with a super-model for a mom.

Framing John DeLorean accomplishes plenty, given both the human element and geopolitical complexity of its subject’s story, as well as the fact that so many people have tried to tell that story and failed.

Framing John DeLorean. Directed by Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott. Starring Alec Baldwin, Morena Baccarin and Josh Charles. Opens across Canada, June 7.