‘Gran Turismo’ movie review: A decent underdog story bogged down by cliches and product placement

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Archie Madekwe, left, and David Harbour in a scene from ‘Gran Turismo’

Archie Madekwe, left, and David Harbour in a scene from ‘Gran Turismo’
| Photo Credit: Gordon Timpen

Like many who grew up with the advent of PlayStations, I had a soft spot for car racing games. WhileNeed For Speed and Burnoutused to be common favourites, the same couldn’t be said about Gran Turismo. Despite a realistic set of features, both visually and technically, it didn’t have the oomph factor the other games had; predominantly the option to escape from cop chases and the ability to take down opponents by slamming on them.

Cut to 2023, and the film Gran Turismo takes its time to educate us about all the efforts put in by the makers to lend authenticity and realism to the games. While the game may have potentially won itself another customer, the film is on a different track altogether; it doesn’t quite secure a podium finish.

Gran Turismo (English)

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Cast: David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Darren Barnet, Geri Halliwell Horner, Djimon Hounsou

Storyline: The film chronicles the true life story of a teenage Gran Turismo player who ended up becoming a professional race car driver

Runtime: 137 minutes

Gran Turismo isn’t a piece of fiction, unlike other game adaptations such as the forgettable Need for Speed that starred Breaking Bad’sAaron Paul in the lead. In fact, the film’s primary character explains how it’s not a game in the first place but a “racing simulator”. Adding to the surprise, the film is actually a biographical of Jann Mardenborough, a teenage Gran Turismo player who went on to become a professional race car driver.

Despite being probably the most grounded film to ever carry a video game title, it follows the biopic template to the T; so much so that it ends up being painfully predictable. The South African-born director Neill Blomkamp’s filmography might be limited but it’s packed with fascinating stories — like District 9, Chappieand Elysium — that often deal with his commentary on xenophobia and social segregation shrouded under the pretext of being dystopian futures. For those following his work, Gran Turismo is a peculiar entry, and given the theme, it’s also his least political film.

A scene from ‘Gran Turismo’

A scene from ‘Gran Turismo’
| Photo Credit:
Gordon Timpen

But he almost makes up for it in the race sequences which is where the film puts the pedal to the metal. The filmmaker, who is known for his hand-held, documentary-style visuals, opts for a much more sophisticated approach this time resulting in some fantastic visuals. His language of seamlessly blending visual effects into the most crucial sequences works wonders, leading to some of the best racing sequences in recent times.

While Archie Madekwe pulls off the lead role of Jann quite decently, it’s the supporting actors who steal the show. David Harbour’s Jack Salter — as an ex-racer who is now Jann’s trainer — and Orlando Bloom’s Danny Moore, a marketing executive at Nissan (the brain behind the GT academy), are the engine and moving parts of Gran Turismo. Bloom and Harbour bring in much-needed gravitas with their performances, but the same can’t be said about the other characters that are one too many. We also have the sidelined parents in the form of actors Djimon Hounsou and Geri Horner (Ginger Spice, from Spice Girls) who are under-utilised and an unnecessary romance that leads nowhere. The film could’ve shed a little weight on the editing table; after all, a lighter car is a faster car!

What Gran Turismo instead spends much time on is an array of product placements that take up lot of screen space as a glorified showreel. It also reminds us heavily of Ford v Ferrari given both the films’ climaxes involve the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The film also takes a crucial chapter from Jann Mardenborough’s life — his crash at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife track — which is used as a narrative element/motivational movement for the main character who ends up winning a big race after that. With the real crash that happened back in 2015 actually killing a spectator, it is quite tasteless to know that the accident happened two years after the racing driver’s major win.

In one of the film’s most crucial moments, a character screams “You have to commit” over the microphone and it makes you wonder if the makers of Gran Turismo took this a bit too seriously at places where they aren’t supposed to. In spite of checking all the boxes for being a neat little inspiring story of a boy who never lost his hope of making it big in the world of sim-racing, Gran Turismo doesn’t carry much under the hood.

Gran Turismo is currently running in theatres

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