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Framing John DeLorean Movie Review: The Highs And Lows Of Muscle Cars

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By Dave Ashton

In many ways, it’s surprising that a feature film hasn’t been made about John DeLorean up to now. To the wider populous, DeLorean is most famous for making the DeLorean time travelling car in the movie ‘Back to the Future’ and his headlines as an Icarus style rise to car fame and fall. For others, DeLorean was one of the key components of the classic muscle car era. Good guy, bad guy, pioneer, nonconformist, jetsetting car company head to tarnished businessman charged with cocaine trafficking. DeLorean’s life sparks interest even if you’re not a car fan.

Now, after years of failed attempts, a movie by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce about DeLorean has emerged with Alec Baldwin playing DeLorean. The film mixes storytelling with vintage clips from key moments from the extraordinary life of the man.
Firstly, there are caveats to such a screening. You can only cram so much life story into 1hr 49mins., while still covering high drama levels to both entertain both car and non-car fans.

Overview of the man
DeLorean is important to remember for a number of reasons. His autobiography documents most of his standout moments, but in a nutshell after graduating from the Chrysler Institute he joined the Chrysler engineering team, then moved to the Packard Motor Company in 1953. In 1956 he moved to GM working most notably on the Pontiac GTO as the first muscle car for launch in 1964.
Then onto heading up GM and Chevrolet, DeLorean celebrated more of the high life than the usual stoic face of car execs. of the time. Always battling the status quo on both the engineering and management fronts, he went on to form the DeLorean Motor Company and the iconic DMC DeLorean. A meteoric constant rise on the surface, but by 1999 DeLorean had declared himself bankrupt, mostly down to the lack of success of the DeLorean Motor Company. A cocaine sting in 1982 from which he was found not guilty didn’t help matters, but by then his reputation had taken an irreversible hit. Pioneering vehicles, rockstar lifestyle and ultimate fall from grace, what’s not to like.

Whats its all about?
Coming from the muscle car perspective, I would have been almost happy with a straightforward documentary as the video at the foot of the page. A little background of the man’s personal life, but the main focus being on the influence DeLorean had on each car company and the groundbreaking vehicles. The problem with that approach is that it really limits the audience to the petrol heads out there.
So, a more general approach is needed. A bit TV drama mixed with just enough factual information to get the point across to appeal to the wider masses. Probably why vintage clips had been included in the movie. Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce are class A documentarians, so a completely dramatized version of DeLorean’s life was unlikely, but on the same note Alec Baldwin is hardly going to recite the full story in a linear fashion as a voice-over. So has the fine line between pure documentary and a dramatized Hollywood movie been met?

Movie Trailer

(note the cool eyebrows….)

On the drama side of things, the anticipation is ramped up with most of the film focusing on his arrest and trial. But the original footage of DeLorean’s arrest brings home the painful reality of how the mighty had fallen. Other cast members like Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer and Morena Baccarin prop up the story, but you cannot help but want for either a full documentary or full stage play at points.

You do get some background to the man. His influence on the Pontiac GTO, classic era muscle cars in general, the youngest division head at GM, showboating and shenanigans, a man who wanted it all and more. Glamour and pathos make you want to love and hate the character in equal measures at times, especially from the perspective of people who worked with the man at the time. The ill fated DeLorean car company helped Catholics and Protestants work together in Northern Ireland and interspersed interviews show how decisions to protect the workers came at a cost to the company. Good guy, bad guy. Like us all, a bit of both.

For those unfamiliar with John DeLorean’s story the film is definitely worth a watch, even if it’s just to get an overview of the man and his wild ride. Clearly I have a biased opinion as a muscle car fan as any morsels of information that adds to the story are worth a watch. As a pure muscle car fan aware of the man, you will always be left wanting for more information. It’s the nature of the beast with these type of films. For the non-car fan, the movie is an entertaining overview of the DeLorean story which hopefully will lead to further reading and hopefully some appreciation of those early vehicles and how they pioneered what came next.

It can be easy to criticize the balance of a movie like this one. Is it a drama, is it a documentary? Pleasing all men all of the time is always going to be hard work, so at least give this film a watch. You won’t be disappointed.

The DeLorean Story Documentary

Worthwhile links
IMDB page on the film.
Currently on limited release in theaters.


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