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Gran Turismo Review

August 25, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Gran Turismo - Archie Madekwe (Finalized) Image Credit: Gordon Timpen/Sony PIctures
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Gran Turismo Review  

Directed By: Neill Blomkamp
Written By: Jason Hall, Zach Baylin, and Alex Tse; Based on the games by Polyphony Digital
Runtime: 134 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense action and some strong language.

Archie Madekwe – Jann Mardenborough
Orlando Bloom – Danny Moore
David Harbour – Jack Selter
Djimon Hounsou – Steve Mardenborough
Geri Halliwell Horner – Lesley Mardenborough
Daniel Puig – Coby Mardenborough
Josha Stradowski – Nicholas Capa
Takehiro Hira – Kazunori Yamauchi
Maeve Courtier-Lilley – Audrey
Thomas Kretschmann – Patrice Capa

There was a point in filmmaker Neill Blomkamp’s career where it appeared he would direct a big-screen film adaptation of the video game franchise, Halo. Many years later, Blomkamp has finally directed a picture inspired by a video game, but it’s not Halo. Instead, it’s Gran Turismo. To some extent, the film is based on Polyphone Digital’s game franchise of the same name and co-produced by PlayStation Productions. The movie prides itself on its “Based on a True Story” tagline, telling the real-life story of GT gamer Jann Mardenborough, who would eventually turn pro and race on the global scene.

For Blomkamp’s take, Mardenborough is the wayward young man who dedicates most of his spare time and funds to playing the Gran Turismo game. His father Steve (Hounsou), a former pro footballer, doesn’t see much value in his son’s interest in video games and instead pours more of his efforts into Jann’s brother Coby (Puig). However, thanks to a racing contest conceived by Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Bloom), Jann may have finally found a path to follow his dream of becoming a legitimate race car driver. If he wins a Gran Turismo video game race, he will be eligible to join GT University, with an opportunity to eventually race on the pro circuit.

Blomkamp’s unique vision and style serve parts of Gran Turismo well. Some of the racing sequences are staged and presented with an impressive visual flair. The key racing sequences provide a nice level of immersion. However, the lip service the film pays toward the GT gaming franchise diminishes the experience. The sequences lack a natural, organic storytelling quality that results in Gran Turismo playing more like a recruitment video for GT Academy than an actual story.

The script for Gran Turismo is very much on the pedestrian side. The film follows traditional underdog sports movie beats, but it fails to elevate or do anything interesting with oft-used character tropes and archetypes. Nicholas Capa (Stradowski) is set up as Jann Mardenborough’s racing golden boy and privileged, silver-spoon-sucking rival. Stradowski has no characterization to speak of, other than his portrayal as an unlikable jerk. Even antagonists in cheesy 1980s movies had more charisma and screen presence. Thomas Kretschmann, who portrays Nicholas’ father and team manager, is absolutely wasted. His character barely receives enough screentime to make an impression. Courtier-Lilly’s Audrey is little more than a two-dimensional love interest, which amounts to a bland romance.

David Harbour delivers the film’s most interesting and compelling performance throughout Gran Turismo, despite its perfunctory script. In what could have been a very uninteresting take on the old, sage mentor figure, Harbour finds interesting ways to add layers and a natural believability to the character. Not to mention, his unique charisma is one of the few things that anchors the film and makes it worth watching.

Bloom does his best in a thankless role as Danny Moore. The problem with Moore’s character is that his emotional peak comes at a moment when he attempts to convince Jack to cheat the results of the finals at Nissan Academy. Basically, the crowning moment of the Moore character is that he’s a two-faced, double-crossing, corporate weasel. Moore never gets a chance to redeem himself or come clean about his attempt at deception and to dupe the main protagonist. He passively supports Mardenborough throughout the rest of the film. The scene shows how heavily the odds are stacked against Mardenborough, but it mainly serves to make the Moore character completely unlikable and an irredeemable fraud. Had the film leaned into Moore being a deceptive corporate weasel, Bloom would have been able to show his chops a little bit more and at least get something out of the character. After this scene, Moore disappears into the background of the film.

There are some building blocks where Gran Turismo plays like a genuine attempt at making a solid underdog motorsports movie. But it’s held back by some unnatural, synthetic moments where Gran Turismo plays more like a an elaborate PlayStation Showcase than a legitimate cinematic experience. Not to mention, a weak screenplay fails to elevate the experience. That said, Harbour’s performance and some of the racing sequences did provide some mild entertainment.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Gran Turismo features a painfully mediocre script that's somewhat elevated by Neill Blomkamp's strong, high-octane directing style, along with a strong performance by David Harbour. Unfortunately, copious amounts of synthetic, storyline-breaking moments make Gran Turismo feel less like an organic, cinematic experience and more like a big-budget recruitment video and E3 showcase.