16 Aug 2023

Movie Review - Gran Turismo

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 16 August 2023

I can’t say my expectations for Gran Turismo were particularly high.   It’s based on one of the most famous simulated-driving games there is, and the fact that one of its top players ended up driving Formula 1 races in real life apparently.

I’ll take your word for it. My interest in both Formula 1 and video games is essentially minimal.

I know that many of the actual fans of Playstation games and Nissan cars – you have to get used to an awful lot of product placement in this film – have been mostly pretty snooty about the film Gran Turismo.

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Photo: Screenshot

If you know the real story of Jann Mardenborough you’ll realise a lot of the film has massaged the facts to make it more conventionally dramatic.

But since I had no interest in the real story anyway, I supported anything Gran Turismo could do to make it more appealing to non-gamers and Formula 1 ignoramuses.

It’s directed by former South African whiz-kid Neill Blomkamp, who made a big splash with District Nine but who’s been a bit quiet recently.   

Playing Jann is young star on the rise Archie Madekwe, here defending video games against his sceptical dad Djimon Hounsou.

Jann’s mum is played by, of all people, former Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell. No wonder he seems occasionally confused.  

After years of beating all comers from his bedroom, he gets his big break when hotshot PR guy Danny – played by another long-time-no-see, Orlando Bloom – announces a contest for gamers. The winner gets to drive for real.

Actually, despite snide comments from Gran Turismo critics, neither Halliwell nor Bloom are that bad.  

Jann’s Mum is based on an actual person of course, while Danny has been partly fictionalized to give us someone to boo occasionally.

The other main character – David Harbour as burnt-out ex Formula 1 trainer Jack – is entirely fictitious.  

The fans hated him. I thought he was fine – bits of Ian Holm from Chariots of Fire, John Candy in Cool Runnings and a whole lot of David Harbour in the TV series Stranger Things.

The story is about as generic – and I gather, unreliable – as it’s possible to imagine. 

Young Jann has a dream, his unimaginative dad tells him nobody amounted to anything by playing video games. The kid then competes with 10 other gamers to get his chance.

He meets Jack who tells him he’s wasting his time, like all those previous movie trainers in everything from boxing and bob-sledding to bicycling and ballroom dancing over the years.

Will he change his tune when the kid shows he’s got what it takes?

Young Jann manages to beat all the other gamers, then finds himself up against real drivers and hostile crews. If you’ve been waiting for someone to say “You’re in the big leagues now” you can have that drink.

The pluses of Gran Turino certainly don’t include meticulous accuracy.  

Mardenborough really did graduate from video gaming to the race-track.  Just not quite like this.

On the other hand, the coverage of the races – often real cars shot from all angles by multiple drone-cameras – is undeniably spectacular.  

Thrills, spills - and video-game-inspired graphics instantly showing where everyone is in the race - are all present and correct. 

Youngster Madekwe and old pro Harbour give likeable performances, and help make a predictably predictable story a pleasant enough experience.  

And I liked the imaginative visuals, deconstructing a real-life racing car into the virtual one Jann is used to driving.

I suppose if you care about the real story you may feel short-changed by Gran Turismo.   If you don’t, and just want something to keep you awake, you could do a lot worse.

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