Review: Gran Turismo

It lacks a certain something, but is still a surprising true story!

Nissan motorsports joins forces with Sony PlayStation’s Gran Turismo developer to train gamers into real race car drivers. Jann Mardenborough is one such gamer, but does he have enough to turn dreams into reality?

Gran Turismo is an unusual video game “adaptation”, in that it is based on real events that involved the game rather than the game itself. This makes the film more akin to a drama than the all out action movie that one might expect. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, the visionary director behind sci-fi adventures District 9 and Elysium, and starring David Harbour, Orlando Bloom and Archie Madekwe, the film isn’t half bad.

Blomkamp is an odd choice for director. But then the last theatre release he made was the misfiring Chappie, and ever since then he has been trying to get an Alien film off the ground with no success. Perhaps Gran Turismo is a creative reset. His use of shaky cam in previous films works well, what with the guerrilla-style action he usually shoots. But for something like Gran Turismo, a game designed around precision and perfect replication… the shaky camera and deliberately wobbling drone shots don’t meld well.

The film starts off slow. Like a race car warming up its tyres. We are introduced, awkwardly, to Jann and his gaming habits; an obsession with GT and the desire to one day be a real racer. This estranges him from his family and especially his father, played by Djimon Hounsou (also his mother is played by Geri Halliwell, what??) who wants his son to think about his future rather than waste time with video games.
This part of the story is necessary, however it does feel clunky. Perhaps with the editing, perhaps with how suddenly it is all dropped when Jann successfully joins the GT Academy.

One thing that could be improved is the depicted history of Gran Turismo; the film suggests that it was just willed into existence, that there wasn’t dozens of iterations perfecting the game, starting all the way back at the PlayStation One era.

If you don’t like product placement, this naturally isn’t the film for you!

However, the film kicks into gear the moment Jann joins the GT Academy, and we get the mashing of two different worlds we had been waiting for. Gamers being allowed behind the wheel of real sports cars on real race tracks, and the physical difference between them and actual athletes. It is insane to think that this was real.
At the centre of this clash is David Harbour, a grizzled ex-racer-turn-mechanic who wants nothing to do with these kids. His opening “pep talk” is literally him explaining that he was there to prove they couldn’t do it. It is a very enjoyable second act!

The film goes from strength to strength from there, marred only by abovementioned issues that weaken the film in a general sense. But the emotions run surprisingly high, and while Harbour does a lot (he always does, even when the film is as bad as Hellboy) special mention has to go to Djimon Hounsou, who is an incredible actor and is very underrated. The relationship between Jann and his father is extremely important and it comes into full focus in the third act, and redeems the rather sluggish opening act.

As someone with a passing knowledge of racing, having grown up watching F1 a lot and enjoying racing video games, the fact that this story is real is baffling. The extremes that these gamers are put through by Nissan and their handlers is, frankly, insane. The two tracks that they are put on in the third act are no jokes. If you know you know, but you will still be fact-checking after the film is over!

The racing itself is exciting. There’s a good sense of place and racing lines, which are important to specify in a racing movie. Jann has a good antagonist on the track as well; actor Josha Stradowski does a great job at being really… really punchable throughout the film.

It doesn’t have the same pedigree as a film like Rush, mostly because it is quite hard to make gaming look… well… cool on the big screen. The film does this thing where they digitally disintegrate / build the car around Jann, as if blending the game with reality… it was quite goofy.

It didn’t inspire a purchase of Gran Turismo, but it did amaze in terms of what actually happened.

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