I’m old enough to say I’ve been around throughout the entire evolution of video games and with them the countless movies inspired by them. There have been countless adrenaline pumping video games that have surprisingly resulted in drab, underwhelming movies. Gran Turismo to be honest was always a boring game to me as a kid compared to other arcade racers because of its realism. The trailer for Gran Turismo also couldn’t have felt more by-the-numbers and honestly, it felt like a boring film adaptation of a boring video game.
Much to my surprise, not only did Gran Turismo far exceed my expectations, but this film could also end up being one of my sleeper favorites of the year because it was such a great time, with thrilling action and just enough of an emotional core. Now we’ve all seen this underdog story before. So, expecting the character arcs to veer out of the common path will leave you disappointed. Fortunately for Gran Turismo is that it takes the tried-and-true underdog saga yet weaves it perfectly into the world of this video game to craft an action-packed, and highly immersive adventure of a kid pushing himself to be the best he can be. It’s naturally inspiring and even with my lack of interest, this story had me completely lured in after the first few minutes.
It’s a familiar story but being woven into the world of racing and driving simulators gives the film more than enough of a fresh vibe making it feel unique to itself. Plus, the material is certainly heightened by the performances. Archie Madekwe was great in this role of Jann Mardenborough, a kid going from playing Gran Turismo in his bedroom to becoming a young man racing rockets on wheels. He has a naivete about him, but he also has a commanding presence, and the growth in his character, with all the ups and downs and hurdles feels natural in the hands of Madekwe. He has an unwavering belief in himself but isn’t blatantly narcissistic, so he has plenty of likability.
However, as good as Madekwe was, Gran Turismo relies on, and is elevated by the irritable performance of David Harbour as trainer Jack Salter. Early on you sort of feel the same as his character. That the entire idea of people going from playing the game to driving actual cars is lunacy. This sort of grounds the entire premise. It creates an engaging intrigue in where things will go and yes, it’s all based on real life events. But when played for fiction, the authentic performance from Harbor, the growth of his respect for this kid, and his passion for racing is the anchor of the entire film. Harbour also has a charming, and brash chemistry with Madekwe. So, watching Mardenborough slowly win over the respect from Harbour’s Jack Salter, through his work ethic and his knowledge, is a textbook mentor/pupil dynamic to embed into this underdog story.
Gran Turismo certainly has a lot of moving pieces. From Mardenborough’s dynamic with his father. His various rivals on the tracks. There’s the slow delivery of Salter’s backstory. As well as the global circuit of races, resulting in the pacing consistently moving forward. There’s also a romantic angle worked in for Mardenborough and to be honest this is where the pacing does drag a bit. I would’ve cut this out completely because the time it’s given sort of kills the energy. Yet the time given isn’t really enough for us to care much about it either. So, for me this subplot got in the way of Mardenborough working his way up the rankings.
Regardless of everything mentioned in this critique, what really shines in Gran Turismo is the technical filmmaking. The racing is captured with helicopters, drones, and a variety of other cameras and it’s about as immersive as a racing film can get. You can feel the intensity of these cars, the dangers of these races, and when the motors are running Gran Turismo comes out of nowhere to be one of the best films of the year for what it aimed to accomplish. Blomkamp’s direction during the races is pristine and how he works in the game elements like subtle pole position numbers paced over the cars during the sequences, and how the human brain relates the track to the simulator was fantastic and such an interesting element to add to the film.
In the end, Gran Turismo was a great time with a movie, and a fantastic time at the cinema feeling the energy of the story on the big screen. It’s well paced, serious but not melodramatic, and visually stunning to sit back and watch. Harbour and Madekwe shine in their roles, and they breathe life into these characters to have you completely invested in their journeys and I couldn’t recommend more heading out to see what could easily be one of the top-five, if not, top-three video game film adaptations of all time.
CAST: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Takehiro Hira, Geri Horner, Djimon Hounsou, Joshua Stradowski, Maeve Courtier-Lilley DIRECTOR: Neill Blomkamp WRITER(S): Jason Hall, Zach Baylin, Alex Tse DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Pictures RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes RATING: PG-13 (For intense racing action and strong language) YEAR: 2023 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Action/Adventure/Drama/Sports
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.