"Gran Turismo" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
I'm going to be 100% honest, I wasn't really looking forward to Neill Blomkamp's newest outing, "Gran Turismo". I'm not the biggest fan of racing as I find it dull and boring to watch cars go around and around for hours, hoping something exciting will happen. Then, at the same time, movies that are adapted from video games usually tend to not work, with there only being a few notable exceptions. However, "Gran Turismo" is perhaps the biggest surprise of the year so far, presenting a film that is not only fun, but extremely heartfelt and geared towards nearly all audiences.
The movie is based off the inspirational true story of Jann Mardenborough, portrayed here by Archie Madekwe. He is obsessed with race cars and the video game (which he calls a racing simulator) Gran Turismo, fueling his passions to become a professional race car driver. However, his father (Djimon Hounsou) believes it's a shot in the dark, urging Jann to go after a more achievable and realistic career choice. That is when Jann's once in a million chance finally hits - he has the opportunity to become a real racer through the Gran Turismo Academy.
This Academy was started by Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), who is hoping he can make waves by sending a gamer out onto the real race tracks that they have played for countless hours at their little setup at home. Recruiting former racer who is now a mechanic named Jack Salter (David Harbour), they train a slew of gamers that are the best in their respective countries, hoping to turn one of them into a real racer. When Jann is chosen as the driver to represent team Nissan, his wildest dreams come true. But, at what cost?
The first twenty minutes of this film was spent trying to set up the characters and the world they live in at the current time (from a standpoint in 2023, it's weird to see Jann and his crush, Aubrey (Maeve Courtier-Lilley) walk through Tokyo with no one wearing a mask due to the COVID pandemic). I would say this is perhaps the most dull part of this film as the rest of the film is very not dull. I think Blomkamp would have benefited more from shortening up the beginning to give more screen time to the various moments throughout the first year of Mardenborough's racing career.
When we do get to the racing academy however, that is when the movie truly takes off. From there, the rest of the film is thrilling, tons of fun, and downright just awesome. The racing scenes are shot very well and keep you on the edge of your seat. The story is pretty predictable from the first moment he gets to the racing academy, but Blomkamp is able to keep the viewer engaged and excited for every moment of this film. On a side note, I was able to see this film on a ScreenX format, which I think just made the experience so much better.
What I didn't expect was for this film to be as heartfelt as it was. If you know anything about Mardenborough's life and career (which I did not), you'll know exactly what I'm referring to. But if you don't, I'll avoid mentioning spoilers here for the sake of the viewer's experience. The last forty minutes of this movie tackle a subject that is very upsetting and hard to watch at times, but both the filmmakers and cast do a fantastic job of showcasing it on the screen. It is not excessive, but Madekwe does an amazing job showing real grief and trauma after the event he went through. He is young, but I think this talented actor has a very bright future ahead of him. I appreciate the filmmakers for including this pivotal plot detail as it makes the film more three-dimensional than it would have been if they avoided this storyline.
I was also quite surprised by the acting performances here. Of course, Bloom and Harbour are great in their roles (the latter steals the scene quite a bit in a glorious fashion), but I was unaware of the younger talents present here. I think for the most part, they all did quite a good job and flexed their acting chops throughout the movie. Sure, there are some scenes that lean quite far into the cheesiness aspect, but besides those, this is a good demonstration of talent by the lesser-known actors. From Madekwe to Courtier-Lilley to Darren Barnett who plays the cocky Matty Davis, they all do quite well and I had a fun time with each and every one of their performances.
I went in not very excited for this film and not really knowing what to expect, and came out a pretty big fan. This film is so much fun, but also focuses on hitting the emotional points it needs to to be compelling to the audience members and help them relate to the characters. This movie has sincerely made me interested in Mardenborough's career, and I'm not only excited to see where he goes in racing, but to also see how far these talented young actors go as well.