By: Trevor Chartrand
Framing John DeLorean is a unique documentary about the man behind one of most iconic car designs in automobile history. Much like John DeLorean himself, the film takes some big risks with an interesting and flashy approach. Many of DeLorean’s risks did not pay off, and the same can be said for some things in this film.
To most people (myself included), the DeLorean has always been ‘that weird-looking car from Back to the Future,’ and this documentary sets out to elaborate on this general perception of the car. In order to tell the story of the vehicle, we must first get to know the man who made it all possible. It’s an intriguing tale that Hollywood has been trying to tell for years, with stacks of unproduced scripts all stuck in development hell. It’s a story of drugs, corporate espionage, undercover feds and off-shore bank accounts. The amount of controversy caused by this one little car company – or at least the man behind it – is truly astounding.
The film features interviews with some really important people from John’s professional career and personal life. The film also includes a cast of A-list actors, including Alec Baldwin and Deadpool’s Monica Baccarin, who perform dramatic reenactments of key moments in John’s life. Much like a certain silver sports car, the cast looks flashy but the reenactments themselves aren’t exactly high-performance. As with any documentary that attempts re-enactments like this, these scenes all feel very stilted and forced.
The worst part is, for a lot of the recreated scenes, the documentary filmmakers already have archival footage of John DeLoran in those exact moments that they’re recreating. The scene of his arrest, for example, was recorded with a hidden camera by undercover FBI agents – so when we see the reenactment, we’re really just seeing the same thing twice. We have the original footage, and that’s enough.
To top that off, the film also spends a lot of time on behind-the-scenes footage from the set of these dramatic reenactments. We see Alec Baldwin in hair and make-up, as he rehearses his scenes as John DeLorean. The actors are featured in interviews as well, where they discuss their interpretations of their characters. Now as much as I enjoy the actors and the creative process, the assumptions and guesswork here don’t really serve the documentary at all – these actors have never met the characters they’re portraying, after all. After a lengthy interview about John’s wife, Cristina Ferrare, Baccarin openly admits that everything she’s been saying is purely speculative – and it’s therefore irrelevant. It’s a lot of screen time wasted on what the actors think these people were like, rather than hearing more from the folks who actually knew what they were like.
The filmmakers appear to have two goals with this film. On the one hand, this is the story of the late John DeLorean and his controversial career. On the other hand, the film also appears to be some sort of call-to-arms for Hollywood filmmakers to make a biopic movie about John DeLorean. It’s almost as if the film is a pitch for potential producers: between the behind-the-scenes footage and the celebrities featured, the film’s bizarre cumulative message appears to be that this story needs to be made into a movie. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t get the memo – they’re already making the movie about John DeLorean… so tell the story of the car yourself, don’t ask someone else to.
When the film is honed in on John’s story, that’s when it shines the brightest. Framing John DeLoreon does an excellent job painting a character portrait of the man behind the infamous car. There’s more drama and intrigue in John’s life than most folks could fit into three lifetimes. His former colleagues speak of his ambition and his boldness with both respect and resentment. His son and daughter each have a unique take on their childhood, and where they ended up as the offspring of such a man. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and it’s truly compelling – but the film interrupts itself too many times with its own strange agenda.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor