Tribeca Film Review: Ambition Permeates ‘Framing John DeLorean’

2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: It is absolutely shocking Hollywood has not successfully made a biopic of John DeLorean. The story of the man behind the famous car is an infamous one. Luckily for the film “Framing John DeLorean,” the tale has never been cinematically told. Interestingly, in telling his story, this work opts to mix and match a number of different formats. It’s an ambitious and bold choice, adding even more color to someone who is as colorful as they come. If audiences were under the impression he only created the car made synonymous in the “Back to the Future” franchise, a treat is in store.

“Framing John DeLorean” presents the life of DeLorean through multiple lenses. Some of the film is done in the style of a talking head documentary, while others are full on narrative reenactments. It’s a format that’s never been attempted before, which is refreshing to witness. Each of the styles would work on its own, so they compliment each other well, especially as the film moves towards its denouement, the seemingly contradictory presentations of the man become fascinating.

Part documentary, part biopic, part making-of special, this is a unique look at John DeLorean (Alec Baldwin). From his time at General Motors, to when he created the DeLorean Motor Company, famous for the automobile of his name, all the way to his troubling drug arrest/trial, the man is depicted in various ways. Sometimes, the film opts to use actual footage, buoyed by traditional talking heads found in any non-fiction venture. At other points, Baldwin and actors like Josh Charles portray the real figures in dramatic interpretations. Not content to just stop there, there are behind the scenes elements, as Baldwin tries to understand the man he’s inhabiting.

DeLorean is shown in ways that both present him as a visionary as well as a con artist. If audiences have a particular angle with which they see him, the movie will both challenge as well as reinforce those assumptions. Cristina Ferrare (Morena Baccarin), his wife, doesn’t fare as well, but there are efforts made to not give her complete short shrift. This is about John DeLorean through and through, however, so the focus is always on him.

While the film never fully gets under the skin of DeLorean, Alec Baldwin gives a strong performance, giving the man a new life. Seeing the real man essentially side by side with Baldwin’s depiction, they actually play off of each other well. The real DeLorean is the highlight, especially in some of his worst moments, but Baldwin is compelling to watch as well. Aforementioned actors Morena Baccarin and Josh Charles have small roles as essential figures in DeLorean’s life, though they don’t leave huge impressions. The same goes for other actors who pop up, including Jason Jones, Michael Rispoli, Dean Winters, and more.

Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce are attempting something kind of extraordinary here. Along with writers Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton, they create a hybrid documentary, which doesn’t play by the rules. They focus less on “Back to the Future” than you’d expect, instead of trying to fill in more of the blanks about the man himself. The car is only an entry point to DeLorean. They don’t stumble upon anything shocking, but it offers the DeLorean a showcase he has not yet had before.

It’s fitting that “Framing John DeLorean” takes the route it does. The man himself is hard to have a full read on, so trying to tackle him at all angles makes perfect sense. There are no great reveals, so don’t go in expecting a stunning revelation. Instead, the insights are minor, but still plenty fascinating. Tribeca rarely has high profile docs like this, so it’s one to definitely look out for when it hits screens this summer.

Framing John DeLorean” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 30 and is currently scheduled for release by Sundance Selects on June 7.

GRADE: (★★★)

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