This is a review of the Gran Turismo movie.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
As we all know (and as many of us loudly complain about), the last 30 years have seen a multitude of video games adapted to TV or film. From 1993’s infamous Super Mario Bros. starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, to the Last of Us TV show starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
Love ’em or hate ’em, it seems video game movies are here to stay — though they have been getting better.
The Life and Times of Jann Mardenborough
Gran Turismo (the movie) is a biopic about a gamer who becomes a professional racer after winning a contest held for Gran Turismo (the video game) players. In all reality, the movie is much more inspired by the life of Jann Mardenborough (the real person is hereafter referred to as “Mardenborough”), a Black British professional racing driver, than it is Gran Turismo the video game.
Archie Madekwe headlines this movie as Jann Mardenborough (the film character is hereafter referred to as “Jann”). Madekwe, also British, portrays Mardenborough as a very relatable and humble person. As in most of Hollywood’s rags-to-riches stories, he doesn’t want to follow in his parents’ footsteps — in this case, his father’s — and take up football, but wants to do what he loves: racing.
However, his only experience behind the wheel, is in a video game.
This ‘Video Game Movie’… Could’ve Been MORE Biopic
So we get this dichotomy between father and son. On one side, Jann’s father (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond) hates that his son is wasting his life away in his room playing video games, rather than making a name for himself or finding a job. But on the other side, Jann knows he’s a damn good driver in these games; he feels that he just never gets the chance to prove it. This creates an interesting dynamic that I wish was explored more; Jann’s father is only in a couple of scenes, and Hounsou is a phenomenal actor, making every scene he’s in great. He is very much underutilized in this movie.
However, from a creative standpoint, I can understand leaving the father out of the tale, because Jann has another father figure in this movie.
Gran Turismo‘s Other Notable Characters: Mostly Good
Jack Salter: The Mean Old Mentor
David Harbour was one of the reasons I watched this movie. He’s a fantastic actor, and I’ll watch just about anything he’s in. The character of Jack Salter doesn’t actually exist in real life; nonetheless, this hardened, grizzled old coach who thinks all these kids that won the contest are just lazy gamers, and is trying to get them in fighting shape to be racers, is an excellent addition to the narrative — in no small part thanks to Harbour’s performance.
Gran Turismo offers a less power fantasy-esque take on the typical underdog tale. All of the racers in this movie have spent their lives racing in a game; practicing their whole lives, but in the safety of their bedroom. They’ve never crashed or been on a track, and have never experienced the g-force from being behind the wheel. They can’t simply hit reset anymore; it’s literally life or death.
It’s still a very typical underdog story, following the obvious tropes/cliches; but thanks to the unique approach, it works better than it would’ve otherwise.
Danny Moore: The Bank
Orlando Bloom plays Danny Moore in this film, a fictional character inspired by Darren Cox, the businessman whose idea eventually became the Nissan GT (Gran Turismo) Academy that helped catapult Mardenborough to fame. Bloom’s Moore, accordingly, is the corporate guy who has this brilliant idea of putting gamers behind the wheel to try to find the next big professional racer. Bloom does a great job, portraying the character as much more a corporate suit — akin to Ben Affleck in Air — than a racer.
Audrey: The Love Interest
If I were to point out a negative for this movie, it’s the love interest, played by Maeve Courtier-Lilley. The character doesn’t really do anything to progress or enhance the story; she only has two scenes, in which she’s kind of just… there. That leaves little time for character development (you’ll notice I didn’t add a last name above — she’s never given one). I feel like her character could’ve just been removed from the movie entirely, and it would’ve been for the better overall. She should’ve had a more important place in the tale.
Final Thoughts on Gran Turismo
Neill Blomkamp is an interesting choice for a director behind this movie. He made District 9, one of my favorite sci-fi movies. When it was announced that Blomkamp was making Gran Turismo, I honestly thought it was going to turn out more like Twisted Metal than, essentially, Rocky in a racecar.
But, having finally watched the movie, I can easily say this may be my new favorite of his. Blomkamp does a fantastic job of capturing the riveting nature of racing; the way he films the racing sequences is some of the best since James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari.
Gran Turismo is a great movie. It’s not necessarily a video game movie, but it is one of the best movies that has a video game as a key part of its story structure. In the process, the film acts as not only a biopic for a famous racing driver, but also as a biopic for the game Gran Turismo itself, and the real-life impact it has had on real-life professional racing.
- THE GOOD
- Great acting
- Riveting racing scenes
- THE BAD
- Weak love interest
- Djimon Hounsou is underused
Gran Turismo is an exciting, fast-paced action drama. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and it definitely deserves that title.
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