Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo is one of the better video game movies precisely because it doesn’t rely on the game at all to tell its story.
PLOT: The true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a gifted Gran Turismo player who parlayed his skills into a professional race car driving career.
REVIEW: While some might roll their eyes at the notion of Hollywood making a movie out of Gran Turismo, the famed racing simulator, this is a surprisingly rock-solid effort that’s not much of a video game adaptation at all. Similar to the recent Tetris, this is less of a video game adaptation than a dramatization of a fascinating true story that involved the game. Nissan actually did have a competition where Gran Turismo players were given a chance to train as professional racers. Mardenborough was gifted enough on the track that he went onto a legit career in F1.
It adds up to a pretty interesting underdog story that offers director Neill Blomkamp a change of pace, with this essentially a straightforward sports movie. You don’t have to be a Gran Turismo player to enjoy this, although fans of the game will note that Blomkamp does use aspects of the gameplay to dramatize the racing scenes in a way that compliments the story rather than dominates it.
Indeed, Mardenborough’s story is tailor-made for movies, with him a friendly kid from England who’s being hassled by his dad (Djimon Hounsou) to stop messing around with Gran Turismo and find a decent trade. Lucky for him, a Nissan exec (Orlando Bloom) has a wild idea. He wants to start GT Academy to train Gran Turismo players as race car drivers. What’s crazy is that the concept worked better than anyone could have thought, with the shy, humble Mardenborough having had a promising career behind the wheel (he also doubles for Madekwe during the racing scenes).
While it hits all the requisite underdog movie beats (rivals on the track, grumpy mentors, disapproving parents), it can’t be denied the movie works well, thanks mainly to Blomkamp’s style and the game cast. Madekwe is a real find, giving Mardenborough a lot of vulnerability and making him someone to root for. David Harbour also has a strong role as Jann’s trainer, who thinks the GT Academy idea is nonsense and just wants to ensure no one gets killed, only to become a believer later on. Harbour’s got enough of an edge to him to keep the part from getting too sentimental. In fact, Blomkamp has assembled an interestingly eccentric cast that includes the often under-used Orlando Bloom in a solid character role and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who acquits herself nicely as Jann’s mom.
Blomkamp also does a good job walking a fine line between depicting the racing action in a realistic, immersive way while staying true to the style of the gameplay. While this lacks the hardcore tone of Blomkamp’s sci-fi films, it’s a good stab at mainstream studio filming from the director, and he’s done an excellent job making a family crowd-pleaser.
One thing’s sure; Gran Turismo is a movie made for the big screen. In this streaming era, it’s hard to get people out to theatres for a non-franchise film, and basing this one on a video game is a sneaky way of doing a classic sports movie while still having the advantage of known IP. If you’ve never played Gran Turismo, you’ll still likely enjoy this. It’s an excellent way to end the summer, and hopefully, it finds its audience.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/gran-turismo-review/