Gran Turismo Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Djimon Hounsou, Gerri Halliwell, Darren Barnet, Takehiro Hira, Joshua Stradowski, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Puig, Maeve Courtier-Lilley.
This great underdog story is based on the true story of how a kid from a working-class family in Wales, who loved playing the simulated racing game Gran Turismo, got the chance to become a race car driver and match it on the tracks against professionals.
Twenty-five years ago Japanese champion race driver and game designer Kazunori Yamouchi, the head of Polyphony Digital, produced the video game Gran Turismo, which was the most accurate car racing simulator game ever developed. He and his team of designers spent some five years perfecting the game, and gamers quickly became obsessed with it. One of those who spent a lot of time playing the game in the comfort of his bedroom and game arcades was nineteen-year old Jann Mardenborough (played here by Archie Madekwe, from Midsommar, etc), the son Steve Mardenborough (Djimon Hounsou) a former champion soccer player who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps rather than waste his time with the game. He was dismissive of Jann’s interest in the game and clearly doesn’t understand his obsession with becoming a race driver. “There’s no future in racing,” he says.
Jann eventually got a chance to live out his dream when Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom, from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, etc) created a special promotion aimed at gamers. He came up with the novel idea of holding a competition to find the best gamers and then train them to become real racing car drivers. Jann was one of ten chosen to try out for the GT racing academy team. The ten aspiring drivers were put through their paces by Jack Salter (David Harbour, from tv series Stranger Things, etc) a grizzled burnt-out former race driver himself who now works as an engineer for the wealthy Capa racing team. Initially Salter is cynical about the whole idea, believing it is a potential recipe for disaster, but he is won over by Jann’s obvious enthusiasm.
The script for this classic underdog story has been written by Jason Hall (American Sniper, etc) and Zach Baylin (King Richard, Creed III, etc) and while it follows the usual tropes of the true story formula the pair have obviously taken some liberties with the facts for dramatic purposes as the film follows the challenges that Jann faced and how he coped with the overt prejudice from the rival professional drivers. And Moore considered him to not be media savvy enough to become the public face of the GT racing academy.
It all reaches a climax during the famous Le Mans 24-hour race. The outcome is somewhat predictable but that doesn’t dilute the excitement or enjoyment to be had from the story.
Gran Turismo has been directed in muscular fashion by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9, etc), making his first film in eight years, and the adrenaline-charged race sequences are superbly handled. He also tries to capture the aesthetics of the video game itself in several sequences. They have been superbly shot by cinematographer Jacques Jouffert (Lone Survivor, etc) and they certainly capture the thrills, excitement and tension of car racing. They have been deftly edited in frenetic fashion by Austyn Daines (Demonic) and Colby Parker jr (Ant-Man, etc). There are some great visual effects, especially in those scenes in which the effects crew overlay the simulated video game console with the skeleton of race cars. And there is also a surfeit of product placement, especially for Play Station throughout the film.
In his first major leading role Madekwe is good as Jann, bringing a conviction to his slightly awkward character, but he also imbues him with a vulnerability when he is consumed by doubts and uncertainties and even guilt following a fatal accident on the track. He makes for a likeable and endearing protagonist. Bloom has an unctuous quality as Moore, while Hounsou brings gravitas and empathy to his performance as Jann’s working-class father, who wants a better life for his son, although he is given little to do. Former Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell has a small role as Jann’s supportive mother. Harbour is the standout here as the grizzled veteran who becomes something of a surrogate father figure and mentor for Jann and he earns some laughs and elevates the character above a mere cliche. He and Madekwe develop a strong chemistry. It is also interesting to note that the real life Mardenborough performed all the driving stunts for his cinematic counterpart.
Gran Turismo is a solid car racing movie but nonetheless I still found Ford V Ferrari the more compelling and entertaining film.