Sunday, May 05, 2019

Tribeca ’19: Framing John DeLorean

He is the man responsible for making the word “entrapment” part of the American popular vocabulary. John DeLorean was also the best known auto executive of his time. He probably still is, but not for the right reasons. Sheena M. Joyce & Don Argott chronicle his life, times, and legal battles with the help of Alec Baldwin’s dramatic re-enactments in Framing John DeLorean, which screened during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

John DeLorean could have been the king of General Motors and maybe he should have settled for that. Even before he started the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC), DeLorean and his super-model wife, Cristina Ferrare, were public figures often seen in the media. The campaign promoting the eponymous DeLorean sports car took his profile to new heights. DeLorean even sort of brought temporary peace to Northern Ireland with his Belfast DMC factory. Then it turns bad, really bad—and he only has himself to blame.

The grungy FBI sting video of DeLorean is indelibly etched into our collective memory, but it isn’t very cinematic, so Baldwin plays DeLorean in dramatic recreations of his most fateful moments. The real DeLorean was lankier, but Baldwin’s documented history of scandal and questionable comments in the media adds a weird meta-ness to his performance.

Joyce & Argott offer a balanced presentation of the drug case leveled against DeLorean, providing a chance for the prosecution to speak, as well as DeLorean (in archival footage) and his defenders. However, the facts of the subsequent embezzlement case they methodically establish are unambiguously conclusive. They really convey the classically tragic nature of DeLorean during these sequences, despite the somewhat shticky tone of Baldwin’s scenes.

From time to time, Framing also serves as a surprising cultural time capsule, like when they incorporate footage of DeLorean’s appearance on the Phil Donahue show—seriously, how many people even remember who he was anymore? Plus, many will feel warm waves of nostalgia when screenwriter Bob Gale discusses the DeLorean’s starring role in Back to the Future (which he co-wrote with Robert Zemeckis).

Framing risks becoming excessively hybrid, but it is never dull. Honestly, it is also fun and entertaining to conjure up the 1980s, which Joyce & Argott certainly do. They can’t top the ironic bite of their best film to date, The Art of the Steal (a metaphoric steal, more or less), but their take on DeLorean is compulsively watchable. Recommended for the pop culture rather than the genre-blurring, Framing John DeLorean screened as part of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.