Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Jason Hall, Zach Baylin, Alex Tse
Starring: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Darren Barnet, Geri Halliwell Horner, Djimon Hounsou
Released: August 10, 2023
Grade: B-

Gran Turismo

We’ve seen many video games adapted into movies, but Gran Turismo is slightly different in that it’s the true story of a video game narrative playing out in real life.  In 2006, a British businessman came up with the idea for GT Academy, a television series where the best racing gamers across Europe would compete against each other in physical cars.  It asked an interesting question – could skills garnered from years of simulator training at home… make them just as good as a professional driver on an actual racetrack?

Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and the three-man screenwriting team have applied Hollywood’s cosmetic brush in crafting something palatable for the widest audience possible.  Yes, it’s based on a true story, but parts come across as manufactured.  As a simple example, there’s one moment where a trainer provides useful competitor intel to his driver in the moments before the first race.  It might make for “good cinema” but yeah, you’d have thought this info could have been passed onto the driver well beforehand.

The narrative is focused on Jann Mardenborough (Madekwe), a British teenager and university dropout who is selected for the inaugural GT Academy and, when he proves his worth, gets a chance to compete on a professional circuit (in reality, Mardenborough won the 3rd series of the show).  It features the sort of scenes you might expect – arguments with his parents about the sport’s dangers, musical montages when he hits the gym, rivalries with fellow competitors, and races featuring an assortment of ups (high speed passes) and downs (unexpected crashes).

The film’s biggest positive is the performance of David Harbour (Stranger Things) as Jack Salter, a former driver with a troubled past who is brought in to help Mardenborough realise his potential.  He becomes a father figure and the honest-feeling interactions between Salter and Mardenborough, particularly in the second half, get to the core of the film’s uplifting themes – fighting mental demons, overcoming adversity, and following your dreams.

The other two high profile cast members aren’t as convincing.  Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings) stars a Danny Moore, a Nissan marketing executive who pulls the strings at the GT Academy.  He’s a forever shifting character (sometimes helpful, sometimes villainous) but I never fully understood his rationale and motivations.  What does he get out of it all?  Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (In America) plays Mardenborough’s father but it’s role that requires little more than looking concerned while watching races on television.

Gran Turismo should lure fans of the super-successful video game but as an engaging car racing flick, it’s a few laps behind the likes of Ford v. Ferrari and Rush.