'Gran Turismo' Overcomes a Sluggish Start with a Brisk Final Lap

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Starring Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Djimon Hounsou, Geri Halliwell, Darren Barnet, Josha Stradowski, Maeve Courtier-Lilley, Daniel Puig

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Aug 25, 2023

Gran Turismo is a sports movie specifically made for a younger generation. The idea of e-sports is a relatively new concept – for many of us, video games are strictly defined as activities, not sports. This film, the latest from Neill Blomkamp, takes things a step further by telling the true story of how a video game player from Wales went on to podium at one of the most prestigious races in the world: 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a 19-year-old gamer living in Cardiff, spends all his free time and money on kitting out his Gran Turismo setup. He often plays in a gaming cafe and is considered to be one of the best GT players in the country. One day, he receives a message through his GT profile that he's been selected to participate in a Nissan-sponsored contest where the winner will have the opportunity to become a real race car driver.

The first half of the film focuses on Jann working his way through the different stages of the competition and ultimately winning the whole thing to become the GT Academy's first graduate. This part of the movie is an absolute slog to get through; my friend who came with me to the movie even fell asleep during this part. The dialogue is stilted and corny, and everything feels and sounds like an after-school special. The only saving grace is David Harbour, who plays a former driver recruited to train the gamers and is every bit as delightful as expected.

If audiences can endure this rough start, they are treated with a pretty great sports movie to end the lengthy two-hour-plus runtime. Blomkamp and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret go heavy on the drone shots to get audiences as close to the action as possible, creating dynamic and stylish sequences around the track. Beyond the racing elements looking great, though, is the fact that the story told through the races is done in a compelling way. (For the record, my friend did wake up once the actual racing started and really enjoyed the latter part of the movie.)

The full title of the film in Canada is Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story, and, as clunky as that is, it can be forgiven as the story unfolds. Jann's story is truly an instance of fact being stranger than fiction. The GT Academy was a real competition that produced a handful of racers who competed in the sport's highest level. Jann is by far the most successful winner of the competition and alumnus of the academy, and the majority of events in the film did happen in real life. 

An interesting controversy that has sprouted from Gran Turismo involves the shuffling of the timeline of an otherwise real event. During the 2015 season, Jann was in a horrific accident during a race that unfortunately killed a spectator. Its inclusion in the movie isn't necessarily a problem, but the fact that they moved the crash from Jann's fourth year of racing (when it actually happened) into his first year creates a slight eyebrow raise. Undoubtedly this tragedy would effect Jann and everyone else involved; however, where it's placed in Gran Turismo makes the crash a galvanizing moment that would eventually spur Jann to becoming a champion. It's a bit distasteful, given the real-life ramifications of the crash, which raises the question of how tragedies should be used in the make-believe world of film (especially given how often we see "based on a true story" before movies these days).

The premise of Gran Turismo is remarkably ridiculous, even more so when considering that someone at Nissan really thought it'd be a good idea to take gamers and turn them into race car drivers. Unfortunately, the story is let down by an incredibly slow start, although it just narrowly squeaks by as it crosses the finish line.
(Sony Pictures)

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