Detroit icon's wild story told in appropriately outside-the-box fashion

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An insightful documentary, a film within-a-film and a behind the scenes documentary on the making of that film within-a-film, "Framing John DeLorean" takes an appropriately robust and atypical approach to the tale of the grandiose, larger-than-life Detroit-bred automobile icon.  

Ultimately, the multi-faceted style helps paint a complicated picture of the flawed genius, described alternately here as a winner, loser, champion and fool, who started a revolution and wound up going down in the flames of a fire he set himself.  

Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, the director-producer team behind "The Art of the Steal," tell the fascinating story of the rogue maverick, who rose from hotshot engineer at General Motors — he designed the GTO, which brought life back to the Pontiac brand and defined Detroit muscle car culture — to eventually start his own automobile company.

By the time the DeLorean car, with its vertically-opening doors that looked like wings atop the vehicle, was immortalized in "Back to the Future" — as iconic a piece of Hollywood product placement as there ever was — his company had crumbled and DeLorean's life had shipwrecked.

DeLorean's story is so movie-ready that it's odd it has taken this long for it to come to the big screen, although at one time around a dozen projects about him were floating around Hollywood in various stages of development. ("Driven," a DeLorean pic starring Lee Pace and Jason Sudeikis, premiered on the film festival circuit last year and is due out in August, and George Clooney is reportedly circling his own DeLorean project.) 

In "Framing," Argott and Joyce talk to those that worked with DeLorean as well as family members, including his son, Zachary, whose current life is far from luxurious, and who peppers almost every sentence he speaks with at least one F-bomb.

The young DeLorean's life was torn apart when his father, reeling from bad business deals and deeply in debt to the British government, got caught up in a $24 million sting operation involving 200 pounds of cocaine. Though he was acquitted, further investigations revealed a $17.6 million gap in his accounting, tarnishing his reputation as a businessman and putting an end to the DeLorean mystique. His wife, the supermodel Cristina Ferrare, left him soon after.

In addition to the interviews and archival footage assembled here, Alec Baldwin plays DeLorean in recreations of key moments from his life, and cameras capture Baldwin on-set and in makeup tests as he settles into his role and questions DeLorean's character and motivations. It's a look not only at DeLorean, but a peek at how biopics come together. In the recreations, Morena Baccarin plays Ferrare; the real Ferrare, who now authors cookbooks, is not interviewed in the film.

The DeLorean story encompasses big dreams, huge successes and crushing failures. It’s both inspiring and a cautionary tale, filled with drama, intrigue, hubris, comedy and tragedy. It’s an American story, and a wild one at that. “Framing John DeLorean” manages to squeeze it all into a box, something DeLorean himself never quite fit inside. A more straightforward telling wouldn't do its subject justice.  

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

‘Framing John DeLorean’

GRADE: B+

Not rated: Language, adult situations

Running time: 109 minutes

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