REVIEW: Gran Turismo (2023)

The good part about Hollywood being stuck in a creative slump is the surprise of finding an unexpected gem while mining through the coal passing as entertainment. I had no interest in seeing Gran Turismo; I never played the video game or its sequels because racing games don’t appeal to me, and a movie based on one of them struck me as excruciating. But I figured I’d do it for review purposes and offer it up for my sins. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end credits: I was entertained. Gran Turismo is pretty good, a human story about dreamers chasing the impossible dream and the level-headed realists they convert along the way.

Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) pitches the car company a wild idea: find the best Gran Turismo players in the world and turn them into real race car drivers, with the very best going on to compete professionally. One of the finalists is Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) of Cardiff, Wales, the son of a former soccer player who lives and breathes Gran Turismo and dreams of being a driver, much to his dad’s chagrin. On his journey, Jann faces his father’s dismissiveness, the racing world’s resistance, and the doubts of his trainer, Jack Salter (David Harbour).

The most amazing thing about Gran Turismo is that it really happened. When the film opens and “Based on a True Story” flashes across the screen, the seeming absurdity of the premise leads you to believe it’s very loosely based on said true story. But at the end, they show pictures and detail the events, and astonishingly, the plot of the movie is what really happened, or at least extremely close to it. The real Jann Mardenborough even acted as the stunt driver for Archie Madekwe, the actor portraying him. I’m sure some things were heightened for dramatic effects – giving Jann a nemesis, for example – and there are some points where it feels like a long, expensive ad for the game, but the movie takes on a new dimension knowing how close it hews to reality.

That’s good because the plot of Gran Turismo is mostly predictable. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, you can guess how most of the story will play out, who will race against who when and where, and what the major characters’ arcs will be. It‘s a familiar story, but a crowd-pleasing one, and knowing it’s true makes it that much more inspirational. Jann is the embodiment of every kid playing his favorite video game and wishing he could live it, and seeing him get the chance is exciting and terrifying. He is surrounded by people who don’t get it and think he’s a dopey kid with his head in the clouds, but like every gamer, he knows there’s more to it, a dimension people who don’t play will never understand.

Gran Turismo

That side of it is embodied by two great actors. First is Djimon Hounsou as Steve Mardenborough, Jann’s father. Steve is a former professional soccer player who shakes his head at Jann’s devotion to a video game and wants him to think practically. He doesn’t make the connection with his own career path or his support of Jann’s younger brother, who also wants to play soccer. But he isn’t the evil parental figure intent on crushing dreams, and much of that is on Hounsou imbuing Steve with love and humanity even as he scolds Jann. Hounsou pops up a lot, but it’s always a pleasure to watch him bring a new character to life.

The other is David Harbour as Jack Salter, the former race car driver who reluctantly agrees to train the gamers. He’s incredulous at first, convinced these kids have no idea what they’re doing and will never be real drivers just because they’re good at a video game. But he also hates what’s become of his sport, which is now dominated by a bunch of spoiled brats who refuse to take advice and live for fame and flamboyance more than skill and an appreciation for driving. He wants to stick these punks in the eye, but he remains unconvinced that gamers are capable of being drivers. His transformation is tied to Jann’s, going from a skeptic to a believer as Jann goes from a gamer to a driver, and Harbour once more makes a stock figure in a movie like this likable and relatable.

Gran Turismo

The other actors are fine but nothing special. Archie Madekwe is a bit stiff as Jann, going through the motions but never quite bringing him to life outside of a few scenes. Oddly, he’s better in the more dramatic moments where he has to be raw and wounded than in the bulk of the film, where he just has to be his character. Orlando Bloom is okay as Danny Moore, a dreamer like Jann who stakes his professional reputation on the popularity of a video game. The problem with Danny is not Bloom’s fault but the script’s; he ping-pongs from being a true believer in Jann to a coldblooded suit worried about the company’s bottom line and back again with no prompt or logical progression. He’s whatever any individual scene needs him to be for a dramatic beat, and it leaves him inconsistent. Everyone else is just kind of there; nobody does much, but Gran Turismo doesn’t ask much of them.

But the film really suffers during the racing sequences. Gran Turismo treats them almost as chores, with each race feeling like a clip show that presents quick highlights and information, then moves on. You rarely get a sense of how Jann advances past the other drivers, so his skill behind the wheel is talked about more than it’s shown. The same goes for the training sequence, which feels like it’s over before it begins. There are some neat visual cues, like a CGI number appearing above Jann’s car to indicate what place he’s currently in, but it’s used as a crutch to skip past showing his driving tactics. I also like the way the car and scenery around Jann will change to that of the video game to demonstrate how Jann sees a real race as a Gran Turismo session, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of racing details. Director Neill Blomkamp does get some good shots here and there, but the racing pales in comparison to that of better movies like Ford v Ferrari or Rush.

Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo is no classic, but it’s much better than you probably expect. It’s an entertaining movie with heart, an ode to gamers and dreamers, and a showcase for a couple of really good performances. If the racing sequences were better and some of the characters more fleshed out or consistent, it might have been great, but it’s still good, and a decent choice for a weekend movie.

Gran Turismo (2023)

Plot - 8
Acting - 7
Directing/Editing - 6
Music/Sound - 7
Themes - 8



Gran Turismo has an enjoyable human story and some good performances, but the racing sequences leave much to be desired, and some of the characters are flat and inconsistent.

Comments (1)

August 29, 2023 at 10:21 am

We need a Drone Racing League movie that is much like this one, with the flight paths and simulators and stuff. Reason I say that is I’ve now seen 3 “4DX” movies: Top Gun Maverick, Ford vs Ferrari and now, Gran Turismo. Anything that is a good racing or flying movie in 4DX is one that I will go watch because you get a roller coaster along with your movie.
Gran Turismo was an all around solid movie that reminded me of the inspirational and motivational movies of the 80s. In addition to the racing speed thrills, I got just the same amount of emotional thrills from the characters and their relationships. Notice that the driver got no support from the father, but the Chief engineer played that coach model role to help the young man in his life. Like the 80s, it was also a movie about bouncing back from adversity and tragedy. Also, upon ending, it made me feel good. It was a feel good movie of victory, too. All around positive. These are the kinds of movies I’m looking for.

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