This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"Gran Turismo is an entertaining adaptation that has the cars, the speed, the excitement, and most surprisingly, the acting."
BY JOHN MCDONALD AUGUST 9, 2023
The video game world is one of the most successful media industries of all time, and gamers are as passionate and loyal to their sacred life as anyone is to anything. Back in 1997, Sony released the first game in the now long-running series that was about to set the world alight, with the smoke of burning rubber, consuming consoles until the present day. Recent years have shown that you can make a film about most video games (think, Minecraft), and the latest on the conveyer belt is the live-action version of the famed racing simulation, Gran Turismo.
Expect burning rubber, over-the-top CGI, a highly predictable narrative, and a whole lot of cringe, but even with all those negatives, Gran Turismo is an entertaining adaptation that has the cars, the speed, the excitement, and most surprisingly, the acting.
The concept is one of great flamboyancy as well as being quite unbelievable. Here’s the thing though, this film is true – well, it’s based on a story with only a handful of blemishes added to proceedings. Gran Turismo explores the true Cinderella story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a normal lad from Cardiff, Wales, with a rather special talent for the titular video game. Jann is hellbent on pursuing a seemingly unreachable dream of becoming a racing driver, an ambition that Jann’s former professional footballer dad (Djimon Hounsou) doesn’t share. On the other side of the world, Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) – based on real-life exec Darren Cox – pitches the unthinkable idea of putting the best Gran Turismo players in the world into real-life versions of the cars and allowing them to compete for an exclusive slot on Team Nissan as a professional racing driver. The project known as the ‘GT Academy’ gets the green light, and Danny recruits the skills of the outcasted former pro driver Jack Salter (David Harbour) as the chief engineer.
As luck would have it, Jann is one of the best Gran Turismo players in the world and enters the tournament with high hopes of achieving his goal. With the initial tournament in the bag, Jann joins the other 10 finalists at the training facility where they are faced with the daunting prospect of Jack Salter’s wrath, and his assurance that none of the hopefuls have
what it takes to succeed. After some preliminary problems (there’s no G-force when you’re sat in your chair, you know?) Jann is determined to prove Jack, his father, and any other doubters wrong, and become a skilled professional race car driver.
On paper, with its outrageous concept and video game origins, you might think Gran Turismo to be a complete cheese-fest that struggles to pull you in, but again, you’d be dead wrong. Neill Blomkamp – whose career has struggled somewhat since his 2009 film District 9 anyway – really gets creative this time around and pulls out all the stops on what would usually be a mild and predictable showpiece. Whether it’s the digital deconstruction of Jann’s car as he imagines himself back in his gaming chair to calm his nerves, or a brash and albeit hugely unrealistic coaching session by Salter as he rains down words of encouragement from a speeding helicopter above the track – it has a fare few crazy technical strings to its bow and it only adds to the madness.
However, the most surprising aspect of the entire film is the impressive acting – yes, this film has a couple of decent performances that are usually unheard of. Orlando Bloom is effective as the posh British executive and Archie Madekwe's portrayal of Jann is truly authentic; there is a young naivety to the character as well as a somewhat stoic determination to succeed. The relationship that he creates with Harbour’s Salter is a wonderful dynamic that becomes central to the film’s progression and to what makes it unique. Although, it is Harbour’s performance that takes centre stage in this high-octane film, and who would have thought anything less these days. Even with uninspiring dialogue like “if you crash, you don’t get to reset,” Harbour anchors the whole thing down with a hulking presence, and yet, it’s his emotional side that leaves the biggest lasting impression. The moments of sincerity that Salter and Jann share with each other are some of the film’s biggest turning points, and it’s very much welcomed amongst all the mayhem.
Ever since the trailer was released some months back, this film has been met with a very unassertive reception. The thoughts about this film were always along the lines of it being an unassuming, tasteless, monotone, and highly unsurprising adaptation that will struggle to make an impressive, but it’s delightful to say that this opinion couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, it’s no Ford v Ferrari (2019) and neither is it as great a video game adaptation as the heralded The Last of Us (2023). Gran Turismo does the job it set out to do though; it entertains, it makes you laugh at times, and I’m not ashamed to say (no, really, I’m not) that its controlled chaos results in a thoroughly enjoyable film.