Back when Sony announced that it would be developing several films and shows based off of it’s PlayStation games catalogue I was a bit skeptical about a Gran Turismo movie. How can you make a film about a racing game? We got one a few years ago and it was pretty bad (Need For Speed)! Even fellow GNN writer, Johnny Lynch, shot from the hip like I initially did and said :”[…]really think about where we are as a species of potential creative minds that we figure there’s a movie to be made based on a video game with no story; just fast cars doing their thing. Did we learn *nothing* from “Battleship”? He is right, they couldn’t just make a game about racing. There needs to be a human element to it!
Of course the answer was to think outside of the (gear)box! Base it off a true story involving the game’s cultural impact. In this case the true story of Jann Mardenborough and GT Academy. I have to say that the finished product totally lapped my expectations!
If you have been paying attention to the steady release of the PlayStation Studio titles you will notice a trend: they’re pretty much all great! Audiences loved the Tom Holland lead Uncharted film (critics not so much). HBO’s The Last Of US earned its flowers and blew everyone away earlier this year. Even the Twisted Metal series on Peacock is doing well with audiences recently. It’s no surprise that Gran Turismo was crafted with the same kind of love and attention to detail as those adaptations were.
Minor spoilers going forward, nothing major that the trailer doesn’t already show.
You have been warned!
Gran Turismo follows the real life story of gamer-turned-professional racer, Jann Mardenborough(played by Archie Madekwe) who gets an opportunity of a lifetime as one of the best Gran Turismo (PlayStation Racing-game franchise) players in the world to join a contest to become a real professional racecar driver. His father, a retired professional soccer player (played by Djimon Hounsou) discourages Jann’s dreams of becoming a racecar driver as it is a massively expensive sport and that it’s “not our world”.
Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) is a marketing executive for the motorsport division of Nissan and proposes an idea to reignite Nissan’s marketability as a big player in professional racing. To create a racing academy full of top Gran Turismo players who know the ins-and-outs of professional racing through their accumulated hours in the game. Nissan approves the pitch provided Moore can find a coach/engineer who can train the candidates as well as possible for safety and logistic reasons.
Moore eventually finds Jack Salter (David Harbour) a retired professional racer who works for Capa racing. Salter leaves Capa racing and accepts the position despite having no faith in “gamers” surviving his training regiment. That essentially establishes the premise of the film and is all shown in the trailer above.
The film is essentially a modern take on the whole “underdog sports / Rocky” formula, but it manages an interesting cross-section of enthusiasts. This film draws in gamers, racing fans, and sports fans in general, which is very odd when you think about it. However it being grounded with a “based on a true story” premise actually manages to make it work. Archie Madekwe’s performance as Jann isn’t anything amazing but it is absolutely believable. I believe in him when he claims to be a Gran Turismo game junkie who is going nowhere and yet his raw ambition to make himself into a racecar driver feels real.
The special effects and overlays we see throughout the film that are superimposed in key moments remind us that this is ultimately about a video game property but they also do a great job of helping the audience see how Jann sees racecar driving through his videogame lens. Seeing the digital lines he imagines on the track, centering himself when he is nervous by imaging his gaming setup at home, etc. These are really well done! Speaking of visuals, the cinematography is amazing! The camera work and shots are well placed and feel dynamic throughout.
I expect no less from legendary director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, Chappie) who is known for his excellent use of motion and camera work in his films. There is a lot of driving but it is very easy to keep track of the races and positioning through the film. The film’s pacing also feels great, scenes never linger too long and the story picks up exactly when it needs to and slows down when it needs to.
Orlando Bloom, despite his charm, is just “ok” in this film. I feel like they don’t give his character all that much to do outside of his footage in the trailer. He believes in this idea of a GT Academy but doesn’t really have much character beyond that. I get it, it is a sports/underdog story, so we don’t really have time for that in this 2 hour film. David Harbour feels like he is playing most of his other characters of a grouchy grizzled pessimist, if you like those roles of his then you will likely enjoy him here.
He at least does have some character development and comes to terms with his character’s past, so it does have that going for it. PlayStation also doesn’t shy away from peppering the film with product placement. If you are tech savvy enough you’ll spot various Sony gadgets throughout the film. Then again it is professional racing, so sponsors and endorsements are a natural fit. Just wish it was a little less in-your-face about it.
lastly the film is incredibly accurate to the source material! Aside from a few name changes for some of the supporting characters every major event in the film is true to the real life events. Even the results of the film’s climatic big race (thought some of the races are not in the correct order of events). Gran Turismo doesn’t reinvent the formula for a sports/underdog film. But it hits all the big emotional and inspirational cues.
The acting from the supporting cast isn’t anything to write home about. But the film’s tight pacing, visuals, accuracy to the source material, and storytelling from Neil Blomkamp, make it a great summer flick. Ultimately it is a celebration not just for aspiring racers and athletes, but for gamers everywhere! I give Gran Turismo an 8/10. Rochelle Robinson, on our GNN Greats fan page, said: “I’m not a gamer, saw it the other day and gave it 7 stars on IMDB.” I guess as a gamer and fan of PlayStation I gave it that one extra point.
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