Review: Gran Turismo
Gran Turismo – 33%
Reviewer ranking: 1720/2567
2023 may wind up going down as a notable year in cinema history. The Barbenheimer event took theaters by storm this summer and proved that relatively big-budget auteur films can still make money. This may also be seen as the year the Marvel Cinematic Universe began its implosion. And it may become known as the beginning of a successful video game film trend. Earlier this year, The Super Mario Bros. Movie proved there is money to be found in video game IP, despite a relatively mixed critical response. Joining it later in the year is Gran Turismo. Based on the popular video game series, as well as the real life story of Jann Mardenborough, the film’s early box office take suggests success. This may herald a shift in blockbuster priorities.
But like Mario before it, the actual quality of the film is mixed. There are certainly neat aspects to note. Rather than aiming for some stereotypical adaptation of a video game story, the film instead tells the true story of Nissan’s crazy marketing scheme where they would take the world’s best players at Gran Turismo and give them an opportunity to become real racers. For the sake of spoilers, this review won’t comment on the program’s success, but at the very least it is a commendably unique way of trying to do a video game movie.
What isn’t unique is the actual script structure. It follows a very predictable sports film track, with Jann as a down-on-his-luck guy dreaming of being a racer. His father doubts him and his life circumstances suggest he’ll never get to race, until this crazy contest is unveiled and he’s given a shot. The film continues a back and forth between trials and successes, being doubted and then working hard and succeeding.
While it’s arguable whether there is any original storytelling anymore, films can at least feel unique by the details they put into their structure and characters. Gran Turismo fails in that regard because there is little depth to anything. Jann’s conflict with his father (played in a fine enough performance by Djimon Hounsou) is very surface-level and not elaborated on sufficiently. He also has a romance with a girl from his town, but her character is literally dropped for half the film, only to be suddenly brought back. Jann also has conflicts with his fellow drivers, but those are also fairly rote.
The only relationship with any real nuance to it is that between Jann and his trainer Jack Salter, played by David Harbour. At least here, the script tries to work some parallels between Salter’s failed racing career, his tough guy coaching tactics, and Jann’s own struggles. It still is not as depthful as it could be, but at least there’s something. Harbour is a natural fit for this type of role too. The rest of the acting is merely passable. Orlando Bloom plays the marketing executive who comes with the crazed GT Academy idea, but his character mostly falls by the wayside after the first twenty minutes or so, and Bloom doesn’t get to do much. Our lead Archie Madekwe is a decent talent, though he doesn’t elevate the role.
The film is directed by Neil Blomkamp a once promising director who few would disagree has failed to live up to the promise of his debut feature, District 9. Blomkamp renders the racing scenes decently thrilling, though they are not especially standout. Another technique of using CGI to put Jann’s imaginations behind the virtual wheel into a sort-of reality is sort of neat, though not as well realized as it could be. This is probably one of his better films since District 9,though.
Gran Turismo is a decent enough movie that doesn’t quite live up to its potential. With more work on the script to build out the relationships, and more time in the edit devoted to that (this is 135 minutes, much of it devoted to racing), the film might have connected more. While there are some occasionally interesting moments ( a rather tragic occurrence happens midway through the film that it spends regrettably little time with), Gran Turismo plays it too safe to be a truly great ride.