"Gran Turismo" stars David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Darren Barnet, Geri Halliwell, and Djimon Hounsou. Releasing on August 11, 2023, the film is about a teenager aspiring to become a race car driver.
The film is directed by Neill Blomkamp, who also directed "District 9", "Elysium", "Chappie", and "Demonic". It is based on the racing simulation video game developed by Polyphony Digital and PlayStation Studios. Many adaptations of popular video games revise their universes in a theatrical format through their plots, Hollywood-ized visuals, and iconic celebrities. Some have succeeded in reintroducing the games to longtime fans and attracting newcomers unfamiliar with the source material, while most faltered in their direction and changes. With the recent game adaptations getting more love than the earlier ones, including "Super Mario Bros", "The Last of Us", and Netflix's "Arcane", it's evident that the video game adaptation train isn't slowing down anytime soon. In fact, it could beat out the cinematic superhero trend as the talk of the Hollywood town before the year is done.
Until we know for sure, we have another addition to the video game adaptation collection attempting to prove this theory further. One that puts the pedal to the medal and fuels our thirst for adrenaline and excitement. I'm referring to the racing simulation franchise, "Gran Turismo", which puts a player in a real race car without actually driving one. Launched in 1997, the gaming franchise received nonstop praise from gamers and racing fans for its graphics and authentic attention to detail in the vehicles, functions, race tracks, and driving physics. Its success spawned several products and even gaming competitions inspired by the games, including the GT Academy, a driver discovery/development program that lasted from 2008 to 2016. The program serves as the film adaptation's core, which depicts the third and surprisingly youngest winner of the 2011 competition, Jann Mardenborough. What makes this winner's story so compelling that it's worthy of showcasing as a movie, and does it offer enough skills on the track to continue the genre's winning streak? Let's race on down and find out.
The movie is based on a true story about Jann Mardenborough (Madekwe). Jann dreams of being a racer despite never competing in motorsports before. Although, he has been playing plenty of "Gran Turismo" games. Jann gains the opportunity to fulfill this impossible dream when he leaves to participate in the GT Academy, a competition searching for the best drivers in the world. He eventually won the event and was rewarded with a contract to race for Nissan. However, he would later discover that the stakes are much higher in the driver's seat than in the games. With the help of his trainer, Jack Salter (Harbour), and motorsport executive Danny Moore (Bloom), Jann attempts to beat the impossible odds and achieve his dream of racing with the best.
The film was supposed to release nationwide this weekend. However, Sony quickly changed those plans due to the writers' and actors' strike by delaying "Gran Turismo" to the end of the month. Luckily, the studio was kind enough to provide sneak preview showings for audiences to spread word of mouth about it since its actors couldn't do it. As usual, I was one of the lucky folks who took advantage of this strategy and saw the film early before everyone else could. So for those who didn't see the movie early or are still deciding whether to watch it, don't worry. I got you covered, like how a racer covers your rear end.
I've played plenty of racing games throughout my life outside of others relating to RPGs and fighting games. However, despite that, I haven't played a single installment from the "Gran Turismo" series. I'm impressed with the concept of "Gran Turismo" regarding its mechanics and ambitious intentions, but I couldn't find the determination to check it out myself. Regardless, I was looking forward to the film adaptation of the famous PlayStation franchise. It's not just because of the cast it had and my fondness for racing movies. It's also because it differs from other game-based adaptations regarding its plot. Instead of copying the source material's story in movie form, "Gran Turismo" takes the biographical drama approach by showcasing a gamer's rise to success, with the games serving as one of the film's key points in its plot. It's a refreshing change of pace for the genre that's been allowing audiences to experience the games without using a controller for years. But does that make it a better driver than anything else? Not really. But it has enough gas in its tank to finish in the "enjoyable" position.
"Gran Turismo" offers the usual by-the-numbers David-vs-Goliath narrative involving a dreamer accomplishing the impossible: becoming a racer through their video game knowledge. The movie depicts the two different journeys the characters embark on. Jann sets out to become a professional racer, while Danny Moore is on a journey to prove how effective the simulation game is in recruiting players to become actual drivers. It's a harmless, if not predictable, structure that gets audiences in an aspiring mood with its heartfelt intentions, especially if it's sports-related. As usual, I don't mind the narrative too much as long as it has plenty of good moments to outweigh its obvious plot points. Luckily, "Gran Turismo" has several of them to make the biopic formula tolerable, including its cast, with enough tension-filled sequences to put me in the heat of the action.
Regarding the character-driven emotion, the film periodically sputtered more than the number of installments the source material made. The heart was in the right place for those sequences, including the relationship between Jann and his father, Steve (Hounsou). Unfortunately, the movie didn't fully commit to these character moments regarding its inconsistent pacing. Despite being over two hours long, "Gran Turismo" moves along as fast as the racers, making the experience a breeze to sit through. Although, it came with the cost of underutilizing the authentic humanity of its fact-based narrative. So, if you're expecting it to be the next "Ford v Ferrari", you'll likely be disappointed with the result.
Another thing I want to mention about the film's story is a specific narrative element that's recently got plenty of flack from critics. It involved a freak occurrence at the Nürburgring circuit, where Mardenborough's car crashed through the fence, killing one spectator. In the film, it occurred before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but in reality, it happened two years after, resulting in it being identified as a "tasteless" reframing of the tragic event. Considering how many films I watched that were inaccurate with their fact-based stories, this direction doesn't surprise me. What surprised me is how it's been criticized, as it acknowledges the tragedy as intended and its effect on Mardenborough. The "reframing" part is understandable due to the historical inaccuracy and formula, but regarding the purpose of this turning point, I think this criticism is more tasteless than they realized.
If you're hoping for another game-turned-movie adaptation that honors the source material, you might be pleased with the film as I was. Whether the story is good or not, it's easy to admit that "Gran Turismo" works as a suitable love letter to the source material that changed the world of motorsport racing. It takes specific elements from the game, implements them into the racing sequences, and depicts the line between expectation and reality defined by the simulation game. Of course, the film didn't forget to address the dangers of real-life racing compared to playing a video game, even though the execution is far from extraordinary. It's supposed to reflect "Gran Turismo" as a training simulation for people to understand the ins and outs of the cars and even the tracks shown in the movie. Although it periodically feels like a two-hour-long advertisement of the games and the Sony brand, it accomplished this goal quickly through Blomkamp's direction and the film's slick style.
We're all aware that Neill Blomkamp hasn't been striking any gold with his recent films in his post-"District 9" years. "Elysium" and "Chappie" were both fine movies in my eyes, and while I haven't seen his previous outing, "Demonic", I was aware it further fanned the flames of failure in his career. "Gran Turismo" marks his latest attempt to get back on his feet and the first non-science-fiction movie he directed. While it doesn't match the similar heights he accomplished in "District 9", the film works as a functional starting point in Blomkamp's comeback. Regarding the sharp and exhilarating presentation, sound mixing, and Jacques Jouffret's dizzying cinematography, Blomkamp offers an eye-opening experience full of thrilling race sequences mixed with the game's elements. Even though it doesn't race past "Ford v Ferrari" regarding its technical achievements, "Gran Turismo" is another example of delivering a satisfying approach to motorsport racing onscreen.
The cast also did very well with their performances, which maintained the movie's charismatic speed. Archie Madekwe has been in a few movies as a supporting character, including "Teen Spirit" and "Midsommar". In "Gran Turismo", he's offered an opportunity to shine in a central role alongside other well-known actors. Madekwe portrayed Jann as full of aspiration and conflict whenever the odds are stacked against him. As someone who hasn't recognized him that much, I thought Madekwe did a solid job manifesting the real-life professional driver and his traits, which might be enough for him to get more leading roles like this. Fun fact: Madekwe's racing stunt double is the real-life Jann Mardenborough. David Harbour and Orlando Bloom were also decent in their roles as Jack and Danny, respectively. Harbour delivers the usual charm, heart, and humor like he did in his earlier roles, and Orlando Bloom reminds me how much I missed seeing him since his "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lord of the Rings" days. Djimon Hounsou turned in a performance that isn't without a surprising amount of emotion regarding his role as Steve, mainly from his intimate moment with Jann in the film's third act. That scene is one of the sentimental sequences that were more effective than others.
Overall, "Gran Turismo" lacks the horsepower needed to outshine its competitors from similar genres, but it's got enough gas to earn a second-place finish. Regarding its biographical formula, it doesn't offer anything unique that'll get everyone cheering due to its underutilized character moments and uneven pacing. However, it periodically compensates with a slick presentation that's suitably enjoyable, effectively tense, and charismatically heartfelt. It's also a serviceable tribute to the racing simulation franchise that helped turn gamers into racing champions. From its talented cast behind the wheel to the entertaining racing sequences, the movie marks another diverting addition to the game-turned-movie collection. It's far from the best video game adaptation I've seen, but for fans of racing and the racing simulation phenomenon, it's functional enough to drive in.