Confident and competent, Neill Blomkamp‘s adaptation of the popular racing game is a 100-minute commercial for Sony which still manages to have more under the hood than you would expect. Treading the well-covered ground of the sports film, the Gran Turismo movie isn’t interested in re-inventing either that genre or the video game adaptation; merely blending the two into an untroubled, pleasing whole.
The foci is the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a talented player of the game who finds himself called upon to translate his virtual skills into the real world when an enthusiastic marketing exec for Nissan (Orlando Bloom) decides to make video game racers into actual racers for fun and profit. Whether he can do that or not is up to Jann, but he can definitely replicate the tropes of the sport film.
Nothing in Gran Turismo is unique or unexpected, except perhaps how long it spends talking about the creation of the original game and how important it is, including both a pre-opening credits and post-closing credits sequence.
From there it follows the map of the sports film exactly, to the door of an underdog wunderkind through the tunnel of the obligatory training montage, up the hill of the sport related injury and rising self-doubt before barreling to the finish line, neck-and-neck with the arrogant pro trying to play gatekeeper to new blood.
[Speed Racer might be the last film to really play with the formula, with all of its ninjas and critiques of capitalism]. Blomkamp and company realize it doesn’t need to swerve away from that, it’s better to turn into it with a focus on a polished exterior and strong performances.
Like the cinematic athletes before him, Jann is possessed of unique talent which most around him cannot see, testing his own self-belief and resolve to push himself to glory greater than a normal life. The only one who can is the sarcastic, experienced crew chief Jack Salter (David Harbour), whose job it is to run Jann and the other proposed members of the newly-minted GT Academy out of the business.
Those who remain he will attempt to turn not only into car racers who not only compete but win against the best funded, most experienced drivers in the world. Like a taller, louder Burgess Meredith, Harbour is the emotional glue tying Gran Turismo‘s disparate parts together, acknowledging how absurd it is while refusing to let that get in the way of real feeling.
Shorn of scripting duties and working as director for hire, Blomkamp discovers freedom in simply telling this story without shoehorning pet characters or themes into it. The focus is pure information delivery with a clarity of purpose Elysium and Chappie never quite managed.
It is always clear, in the most unambiguous terms, who feels what and which roles they are feeling. Everyone is a simple set of characteristics they can’t escape from (except with the greatest effort); everything is an element to move plot forward.
The only thing that exists is the race and its only there that Blomkamp brings his focus, pitching in different elements of the game’s visual dictionary without ever entirely taking over the moment or getting in the way of lucid storytelling.
None of it is new or unexpected, but none of it needs to be. As hackneyed as it can be, the tension and distance between Jann and his family is real, as is the trust and vision of his coach and the desire to grow.
A committed cast and a focus on pure, fundamental storytelling makes for probably the best Gran Turismo movie we could expect. The constant promotion of other Sony products reminds us, if we can ever forget, that this is just an exercise in corporate synergy, but it’s a fun exercise almost in spite of itself.
GRAN TURISMO MOVIE REVIEW SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10
Sony Pictures will release the Gran Turismo movie in theaters on August 25, 2023 (with nationwide sneaks on August 11 and 18). The movie is rated PG-13 for intense action and some strong language.