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‘Gran Turismo’ review: Typical racing movie with fine performances

A biopic that is based on a popular racing game series from the director of ‘District 9’ sounds enticing, right?

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn’t exist.

The thing about the Gran Turismo series which began in the era of the PlayStation 1, is that it has no characters or story. Its appeal is due significantly to its graphics, many licensed vehicles, attention to vehicle detail, accurate driving physics emulation, and the ability to tune performance, hence the subtitle “The Real Driving Simulator”. As popular as those racing games are, there has never been a demand to make a movie, as opposed to Need for Speed, which failed spectacularly to be the next Fast & Furious

Originally going to be directed by Joseph Kosinski, District 9’s Neill Blomkamp ended up helming what is an interesting spin on the video game movie, which is based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe). Based in Cardiff with a desire to race cars after playing Gran Turismo all his life, much to the chagrin of his father (Djimon Hounsou), Jann’s gaming skills won him a series of Nissan-sponsored video game competitions to become an actual professional race car driver. 

Considering the interesting set-up of using a factual story as the basis of a video game movie, this feels more like a commercial for Sony products, first and foremost. From its opening minutes, the film talks about the development of the titular video game and then when Orlando Bloom’s Danny Moore, a motorsport marketing executive at Nissan, pitches the idea of GT Academy, he revels in the groundbreaking mechanics that Polyphony Digital achieved with Gran Turismo, as if Sony had a say in the script. Even during an emotional scene of two main characters bonding following a tragedy, a Sony Walkman is a pivotal piece.

As for the story itself, it does take dramatic license in territories that range from toe-curling to outright uncomfortable, not least of which the aforementioned factual tragedy in which a freak accident cost the life of a spectator is awkwardly positioned as a motivational moment of Mardenborough’s journey. Despite its true story, the film functions more as a typical racing narrative that we have seen countless movies, featuring the following tropes: the disapproval parents, the gruff instructor with a tragic backstory, the slimy marketing person, the underwritten love interest, and the antagonistic racing rival. This is not to negate the fine performances from Archie Madekwe, David Harbour and Orlando Bloom, though you do wonder why Geri Halliwell AKA Ginger Spice is in the movie at all, playing Jann’s mother. 

Having presented alternate sci-fi worlds in District 9 and Elysium, this is certainly a change of pace for Blomkamp. That said, considering the video game influence in how he approaches action sequences from his previous outings, Blomkamp applies the game’s visuals to the practical racing, with the few moments that blend the real and gaming worlds. As much as the script beats you over the head that this is not a game, Blomkamp is somewhat treating it as such, giving the film a bit of a personality that doesn’t feel as corporate.

gran turismo
‘Gran Turismo’ review: Typical racing movie with fine performances
Gran Turismo
If not for the extended product placement, the two-and-a-quarter-hour running time and the wonky script, Gran Turismo would have been solid. Like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, it does feel like Sony had total control over a product that has glimpses of the director’s personality.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Fine performances from Madekwe, Harbour and Bloom...
...despite working with a script, which has the most obvious dialogue and dramatic diretions that many will find uncomfortable.
Despite the fleeting moments of Blomkamp's personality through the racing seqeunces, the overall film is one giant commerical for Sony products.
5
Average

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