‘Framing John DeLorean’ Attempts to Capture the Man Behind the Name

The new documentary — which premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival — is the first film to tell the story of the auto executive’s involvement in a multi-million dollar cocaine smuggling scandal.


A still from the documentary “Framing John DeLorean,” which had its world premiere last night at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film, which focuses on the automobile titan’s involvement in a cocaine scandal, uses a unique blend of narrative techniques to tell DeLorean’s story. (via Sundance Selects)

Kaylee DeFreitas, Staff Writer

When you hear the name DeLorean, what do you think of? “Back to the Future?” The car itself? Cocaine scandals? No matter what image the name conjures, many people have something they associate with it. John DeLorean has always been something of a mythic figure. DeLorean was an engineer and automobile titan, known for his work at General Motors — and his involvement in a $24 million cocaine deal.

DeLorean’s rise and fall are fascinating, which makes it surprising that his life has never been explored on the big screen — until now. The documentary film “Framing John DeLorean,” which had its world premiere yesterday at the Tribeca Film Festival, digs into the life of the inventor, simultaneously examining the factors that make his story so hard to tell.

The film is split into two narratives: a deep dive into DeLorean’s life choices and an analysis of his character through reenactments which feature actors’ perspectives. These two narratives provide distinct views on who DeLorean was from those who knew him closely and have studied him extensively, as well as from the perspective of an actor who knows him only from the standpoint of having to play him.

While the reenactment portion of the documentary is compelling, it does seem a bit pointless as these short scenes add little to the overall narrative of the piece. The historical and interview parts of the film do a great job of drawing the audience in and fascinating them with this larger-than-life story — unfortunately, the reenactments ultimately detract from the viewing experience. The two forms of narrative don’t mesh well, and the interviews with the real people who knew him are far more compelling than those done with Alec Baldwin about what it is like to play him. While it is interesting to get Alec Baldwin’s perspective on how he developed DeLorean as a character, the interview just seems to jumble the documentary with two divergent narratives.

However, the interviews with DeLorean’s children are a welcome treat. They provide insights that are both essential to telling the story of the man and the scandalous figure he became. Their side of the story is rarely presented when talking about DeLorean’s fall from grace, so to hear about the downfall from their point of view is fascinating and emotional. His children also offer a sincere look into DeLorean’s years out of the spotlight and his never-ending desire to design cars again. DeLorean’s children also add a great sense of humor and heart to the piece, and if it had just been the two of them giving interviews the entire time, it would make the piece just as good, if not better.

“Framing John DeLorean” is a compelling documentary that tells the story behind a name that many are familiar with in a variety of different ways. While a unique format, the split narratives are the documentary’s weak spot. The intention behind the split narratives is well-formed, but the execution just further proves why DeLorean’s life is so hard to adapt to film. Nonetheless, the documentary is an outstanding analysis of a captivating life and will draw in any viewer whether they are familiar with the name DeLorean or not.

“Framing John DeLorean” will play tonight at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas Battery Park, 102 North End Ave., as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

Email Kaylee DeFreitas at [email protected]