Gran Turismo (2023) Review
A SOLID “UNDERDOG” TALE
THAT RACES TO THE FINISH
Adaptations of popular video games continues to be a hot commodity with studios and moviegoers alike, spreading to the masses in translating what made gamers hyped up and bringing it to both the big and small screen. While there have been many projects that have made the jump from “console to film”, Sony (or rather Sony’s PlayStation) has found a special niche in adapting some of the games into new mediums and platforms for people to experience these games. Of course, seeing the lens through cinemascope is perhaps the most effective way that Sony has integrated several of their iconic games into the filmmaking universe, producing various feature lengths film that are based upon some memorialist hits, including the likes of the adventure platformers of Tomb Raider 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, 2003’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, and, 2018’s Tomb Raider) and Uncharted (2022’s Uncharted), the long-running RPG series Final Fantasy (2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, 2005’s Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, 2016’s Kingsglavie: Final Fantasy XV), the sci-fi action-adventurer shooter Ratchet & Clank (2016’s Ratchet & Clank), and the horror survival games Resident Evil (Resident Evil film series (2002-2021)) just to name a few. Other notable adaptation also includes several TV show platforms, including HBO’s The Last of Us and Peacock’s Twisted Metal (based on the video game franchises of the same name). Now, Sony Pictures (as well as under the banner of PlayStation Productions) and director Neil Blomkamp present the latest endeavor to be based on a video game with the release of Gran Turismo, based on the video game series that began back in 1997. Does this movie race to the finish line by blending reality “true story” drama and video game nuances or does it “crash and burn” with a flat and predictable underdog narrative?
Growing up as a young man in Cardiff, Jann Mardenbourgh (Archie Madewe) centers his life in the video game world, with the “Gran Turismo” game series being the gamer’s passion, turning the simulation medium into a form of escape of reality. Spend his days by memorizing every detail of the tracks and customizations to the game’s cars, such dedications disappoints his father, Steve (Djimon Hounsou), a former soccer player who wants his son to get take his life more seriously rather than playing games. Elsewhere, in Tokyo, Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) is a Nissan marketing manager trying to promote car usage to the masses, hatching a plan with the company’s executives to use the “Gran Turismo” platform to launch a contest, inviting gamers to their luck in the “real deal” of racing professionally. Seeking help to coach the event and the soon-to-be players, Danny turns to ex-racer Jack Salter (David Harbour) to be his chief engineer in the contest, with the gruff and cynical man expecting nothing from would-be challengers. When Jann wins a shot at his dream, he gets thrusted into the competition, face with doubters, naysayers, and the unimaginable sheer force of driving cars. In time, Jann, with Jack by his side and facing adversary in rival driver Nicholas Capa (Josha Stradowski) soon finds himself at the center of attention, winning a spot to drive for Nissan in the pro leagues, exposed to the real dangers of the sport.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
From my personal experience of seeing a lot of movies throughout the years, adapting a property to another medium (be it a TV movie, TV series, feature length film or something else entirely) can be quite difficult and challenging; an endeavor that runs the risk of becoming a flop due to the missing “X” factor that originals source material was able to achieve (and harness) for mass appeal to the masses. Video game adaptations are definitely in this category and have had their “ups and downs” throughout the years, with the stigma of the classic “video game movie” curse permeating throughout most endeavors out there. Naturally, seeing such translations are still quite fascinating to me, with a cinematic representation of such video game characters and scenarios (and sometimes scenes) portrayed in a very unique way….in both live-action and animated ways that its source material could never projected. For the PlayStation variety, it’s been quite mixed bag….at least for me. For starters, I did like the Tomb Raider movies (all three of them) and found them far more interesting than the lukewarm translation of Nathan Drake in 2022’s Uncharted. The Final Fantasy property has always been my favorite RPG series of all time, so to see them brought to a new medium was quite exciting. Spirits Within, however, was a disappoint for me, but both Advent Children and Kingsglavie were solid extensions of the games that they are paired with. As for Ratchet & Clank, I felt it was good, but not fantastic. That being said, I like it was more of characteristic balance rather than story (sort of a “ying and yang against its video game counterpart of which the film is based off of). The Resident Evil movies I have no opinion. Wasn’t a huge fan of them, but I know that there is quite a following for them, especially cinematic franchise it was built throughout the years.
As mentioned, with the rise of streaming services platforms (and larger production budgets for TV series on those said platforms), it’s been interesting to see video game, especially the ones from PlayStation brand, move into a much better light. Of course, HBO’s (or rather Max’s) The Last of Us is a prime example of this mantra and has received a lot of praise for its adaptation. With this, as well as the knowledge of other PlayStation streaming series / TV series on the horizon (i.e. Ghost of Tsushima, Horizon, and God of War) be hinting at by both Amazon and Netflix, it seems that more ambitious (and cinematic) takes of video game adaptations are still on the horizon and still quite popular and lucrative business to get into.
This brings me back around to talking about Gran Turismo, a 2023 a biographical sports drama that is based on a true story as well as being labeled as a video game adaptation from the PlayStation exclusive game of the same name. As I’ve stated above, I am causal gamer, but I do have all of the gaming consoles out there, yet I really never played much of the Gran Turismo games. I’ve actually just started playing Gran Turismo 7 for the PS5 a few months back and I have to say that I quite enjoy it. So, it came to me as a bit of surprise when Sony announced that they were going to be making a Gran Turismo movie, which sounded kind of a little bit off the wall if you know what I mean. I mean, there is a little bit of a narrative in the new game, but there’s not really much of a story / adventure mode. So, how could a movie studio pull off a full-length feature film about a racing simulation video game? Well, surprising enough, the movie would be “based on a true story” that revolved around a real gamer of the popular game that got the chance to be a race car driver. From that alone, I was definitely interested. And I didn’t even see the movie’s trailers or even knew who was going to be in the movie.
When the film’s movie trailers did get released, I was instantly hooked as it looked quite appealing. From the cast to the story, and all the other snippets shown in the previews, I was definitely feeling this film. Plus, it also helped (or rather fuel) my interest to see this movie because the trailer was shown all throughout the summertime during the “coming attractions” previews shown at my local theater. And, much like Blue Beetle, the trailer for Gran Turismo was showcased in dozens of these “coming attractions” showreels, regardless of the movies that I went to see (i.e. PG, PG-13, or R rated). Suffice it to say, the marketing campaign for this particular upcoming film was definitely in full force. After all that, I was even more intrigued to see this movie. However, as many know, video game movies have a certain type of stigma to them, which there’s a particular “video game curse” that many of these projects can’t break and fail to make a harmonized transition from game to screen. There are some that have, but it’s rarity. Anyways, that linger doubt was still in the back of my mind, but I was definitely looking forward to seeing what Gran Turismo was all about. With the movie being delayed two weeks from its original theatrical release (moved from August 11th, 2023, to August 25th, 2023, due to the SAG-AFTRA strike), but advance screening was held during that time to help generate “word of mouth” about the project. So, after seeing it and getting several other reviews completed, I’m finally ready to share my personal “two cents” on this movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I really liked it. Despite the film being slightly overstuffed and following several familiar tropes in the sports genre, Gran Turismo is a solid “underdog” tale that is compacted with thrilling fast-paced racing and several great character performances from the cast. It’s quite a familiar story to be told (one that’s easy to follow and has been done before), but the film actually turns out to be one of the “hidden gems” of the summer 2023 movie lineup season….and that’s a great thing to be known for.
Gran Turismo is directed by Neil Blomkamp, whose previous directorial works include such films like District 9, Elysium, and Chappie. Given his background within the sci-fi directed projects as well as other short films, Blomkamp does seem like an almost “unlikely” choice to helm such an endeavor as this particular movie, especially one that is grounded in reality due to its “based on a true story” narrative premise. However, sometimes that is the best thing for a movie, with a director is unknown of the genre territory, which (to me) felt like the case with this film and Blomkamp at the helm. In that regard, I felt that he certainly did succeed in turning this adaptation into a feature film endeavor, with Gran Turismo having a more sense of real-world realism rather than many other video game adaptations. This “rooted in reality” feeling permeates the entire film, with Blomkamp shaping the film to be a very engaging story from start to finish. Of course, familiar tropes to appear throughout the project (more on that below), but the identity of movie’s underdog themes is quite the silver lining and something that viewers will always cheer for. I mean…. who doesn’t like an underdog tale, especially one that is based on a true story narrative. Naturally, liberties are taken with the source material, but the end result is still something that is quite tailored made for a theatrical presentation and that it definitely works. Blomkamp knows how to make such a odd (almost surreal) situation with an incredible opportunity feel fascinating, bold, and exciting. The film definitely has a feeling that has familiar tints of the video game “gamer” material (as seeing through Jann’s passion for the Gran Turismo game) as well as character drama, which helps generate that particular “human connection” that is usually found in sports films. In truth, Gran Turismo, for better or worse, is (and should be) considered to a be sports drama, with such familiar tones that are found within the genre of seeing adversity and determination in an underdog-like character. This is both good and bad for the movie (more on that below), but, for the good part, it is quite an endearing and integral part of the story / movie that Blomkamp helps propel forward within the characters and their personal struggles.
Looking beyond the “human connection” elements, Gran Turismo’s action set pieces are quite thrilling and engaging to watch throughout the entire project. Of course, with the movie being based on a video game racing simulation, this particular aspect would have to be the main highlight of the production as well as “bridge the gap” between game and movie in this adaption. Thankfully, Blomkamp succeeds in this matter and gives the picture an extra jolt of excitement of action thrills of car racings. Sequences of fast accelerations and tight “death defying” turns are the name of the game (quite literally) as Blomkamp keeps that in mind and brings it to the forefront of the camera lens throughout large portions of the movie’s runtime. There’s plenty of dynamic racing in the film, which prompts a lot of adrenaline rushes as cars zoom by and tight views of such competitions can be felt, which is what Blomkamp definitely wants to convey. As many viewers makes the connection, including myself, by calling this movie a video game meets Ford v Ferrari is the correct correlation, with the balance of action, story, and characters. While James Manigold 2019 film might be the better of the two, Gran Turismo still emulates the same type of feeling and entertainment of a feature film that stands out for character drama and (of course) its action stunts of racing. Additionally, the framing of the racing (as well as the characters) give enough gumption and acceleration (no pun intended) to make the movie feel more than just a video game film adaption or even a racing sports drama. Speaking of video games, Blomkamp makes notions and nods towards the PlayStation’s source material with little sound effect noise that players might be familiar with from the popular gaming console as well as design effects from the Gran Turismo 7 in a few scenes. It’s nice callback to the game and one that I’m sure fans will appreciate.
As a minor praise that I thought that Blomkamp does with the movie is that it’s quite accessible for a lot of ages….even if those who haven’t played the video game or not. In addition, what I also mean is that the movie is easy to digest and can be seeing by a much broader audience, even some young teens will be able to watch. Barring one or two drinking scenes, the movie doesn’t have much in the ways of swearing, sex, or violences, which means it’s not really offensive and casts a wider net in who can watch it…. which (in my book) is a good thing. Overall, I felt that Blomkamp did a solid job in bringing this movie to life and delivers one that is tried and true underdog tale that delivers high octane thrills and character drama nuances.
In the presentation category, Gran Turismo definitely races off with a very intricate and layered feature definitely feels like a summer blockbuster endeavor, which does “heighten” the cinematic level of the narrative. Everything from the exterior locations and racetracks to even the car designs and overall appearance, the flashy visual details in the movie’s background setting and production quality is top-notch. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Martin Whist (production design), Lauree Martell, Adam Polgar, and Akos Tanaszi (set decorations), Terry Anderson (costume designs), and the entire art department team for their efforts in bringing Gran Turismo to life through its backdrop setting and visual style.
Speaking of visual style, the movie itself looks quite sleek throughout its presentation, which seems to be a mixture of CGI wizardry (in a few moments) as well as realistic / legitimate car builds racing, with plenty of stunts and flair for the feature to buy into the driving as such high-octane speeds. This goes along with the cinematography work by Jacques Jouffret, which displays several dynamic camera works to heighten such intricate and intense racing sequences to help elevate the filmmaking drama and entice viewers with its action. Additionally, the sound design (editing and mixing) should be mentioned as a positive for this movie, especially when hearing the roar of an engine or fast burning of rubber on the racetracks. I usually don’t mention the overall “sound” of the movie unless it’s important, so you know that it’s quite paramount in Gran Turismo. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Andrew Kawczynski and Lorne Balfe, is quite good throughout the entire movie and helps build up a lot of the dramatic moment scenes, regardless of if it is a character driven one or bombastic action fueled sequence. All in all, Gran Turismo’s soundtrack score definitely compliments its camera scenes and generates enough musical composition to build more of a cinematic feeling in this sports drama tale.
While I did enjoy this movie more than I expected to, Gran Turismo does hit a few bumps in the road, which do draw some criticism towards its overall staging and execution of this movie. How so? Well, for starters, the movie itself is a bit predictable right from the get-go. Granted, this is usually the case in underdog sports drama endeavors, where the main goes from the classic “zero to hero” avenue as well as littering the familiar path with obstacles, struggles, and triumphs along the way. It’s definitely a proven framework for a cineamtic story and has been tested in many sports film features throughout the years. Thus, Blomkamp uses this movie as a blueprint guide, which does fall prey to familiar narrative tropes and predictability. A lot of key twists and turns are formulaic and are easy to spot a lot of familiarity within the feature. Again, this is part of sports underdog drama pedigree, so I don’t exactly discredit this particular aspect…..just merely point it out. Thus, if you’re going into this movie expecting something new or original, you’ll be slightly disappointed. Another aspect that the movie struggles is within a lot of its secondary supporting characters. There is a lot of these players in the movie and, while the acting talent involved is good, the character development for them gets shortchanged; rendering many with a very “surface like” and not much depth. If more time was permitted, it would’ve been nice to see this character grow and evolve throughout the film’s runtime.
As mentioned, the movie is “based on a true story” with the script, which was penned by Jason Hall, Zach Baylin, and Alex Tse, draws inspiration from the real world story of Jann Mardenbourgh and his tale of wining the GT Academy and becoming a professional racer because of it. Such a narrative (of course) is appealing to the masses for a classic “feel good” underdog tale to unfold, but comes at the cost of taking liberties with its translation to a silver screen platform. Thus, those who are familiar with Mardenbourgh’s story or did some fact checking before / after watching Gran Turismo will undoubtedly find certain events jumbled around and thrown out of sequences for a more tailored made narrative for a theatrical motion picture presentation. In addition, certain characters have more cinematic liberties taken with them, which might upset certain finds when comparing the film to the real life story.
As a minor point of criticism, Gran Turismo does have large presence of commercialism throughout the entire feature. Naturally, Sony’s PS5 (and Gran Turismo 7) have plenty of product placement in the movie (as something I expected), but also Nissan and other racing / car brand names, which are plastered in and out of the film. Of course, I knew that this was going to be expected, so it didn’t quite bother me, but some viewers might find it a bit obnoxious and overstating the commercialism that the movie has.
The cast in Gran Turismo delivers a solid representation of many of these real-life counterpoints or (at the very least) closely resemble a character that he / she is based off of. Yes, there are some characters that are fully developed beyond their initial introduction / setup, which are mostly the supporting players, but the roster selection of actors and actresses for this movie are well-placed and give some good character-esque performances throughout. Leading the charge in the movie is actor Archie Madewe, who plays central protagonist of Jann Mardenbourgh. Known for his roles in Midsommar, Heart of Stone, and Hang Ups, Madewe isn’t quite the household name for an actor in a lead role, but makes his presence known in this movie. To his credit, Madewe does a solid job in playing the character of Jann Mardenbourgh, a young man who shrugs off his responsibilities for playing video games on onset and slowly becomes more mature and evolve into a more confident person as the movie progresses. Again, it’s the classic “zero to hero” hero’s path that works as a “double edge” sword at times, but, for the most part, Madewe definitely fits the character as enough youthful naivety and likeable personality to make his portrayal of Jann Mardenbourgh endearing and easy to root for in the feature.
As a sidenote to Madewe’s Jann, actress Maeve Courtier-Lilley (The Outpost and Causality) plays the character of Audrey, Jann’s love interest. While Courtier-Lilley’s acting is fine and I have nothing to say about her talents, her character of Audrey is a little bit underwritten (as mentioned above) and could’ve been easily expanded upon if the script added more substance. Still, both her and Madewe look good together and share a nice on-screen chemistry with each other, which helps buy into Jann and Audrey love connection.
Behind them, I would have to say that actor David Harbour (Strange Things and Black Widow) gets a strong camera spotlight in Gran Turismo as Jack Salter, a former pro racer turned mechanic who becomes Jann’s trainer throughout his journey. I’ve personally always liked Harbour as an actor, even as the titular Hellboy in the horrible 2019 remake of the same name, so I was quite interested in this movie when it was announced that he was going to be in it. True to his talents, Harbour is the “scene stealer” in the movie and has the right amount of balance of comedy and drama within his portrayal of Salter, which makes him compelling from the get-go. His character himself is pretty straightforward as the grizzled / no nonsense coach that helps drive Jann throughout his journey and, while there are liberties taken in his real-life counterpart, the film version of this particular individual definitely works. Also, his interactions with Madewe are great and definitely has that feeling of “coach to mentor” vibe. Overall, Harbour gets the most praise for his character role of Jack Salter and ends up being the most memorable character of the film. Next, actor Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) provides a very solid role in the character Danny Moore, a marketing executive for Nissan and the mastermind behind the GT Academy competition. While not as magnetic as Harbour’s Salter, Bloom does make for a good “business end” of the GT Academy experiment and helps build upon excitement and concern throughout the entire endeavor. Plus, Bloom is skilled enough to walk a fine line of making Moore feel likeable without tampering feeling like a stereotypical “company man” trope. Plus, the interactions between him and Harbour are pretty good in my opinion.
In more secondary supporting roles, the film places a special highlight on Steve Mardenbourgh, Jann’s father and who is played by actor Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond and The Island). While the character himself is pretty straightforward and acts as the “concerned father” archetype to the main protagonist, it’s actually Hounsou who helps elevate Steve to being a memorable part in the feature, especially when emotional drama runs high. Sadly, Jann’s other family members, including his mother, Lesley, and his brother, Coby, who are played by actress Geri Horner (Underground and Crank: High Voltage) and actor Daniel Puig (Naomi and The Bar), don’t share the type of screen spotlight as Hounsou does in the movie, with their characters being a bit undercooked and could’ve been easily expanded upon. Still, what is given by both Horner and Puig is decent.
Acting as the semi-“antagonist” like in the movie is the character of Nicholas Capa, an arrogant and hot-headed driver who acts as a rival to Jann in the movie, and who is played by actor Josha Stradowski (High Flyers and The Wheel of Time). For his part, I think that Stradowski does a pretty good job in the role, who definitely knows how to “lay it on thick” in making the spoiled and pompous attitude of a young and experienced driver, who sees Jann as a threat. That being said, I think that Capa, while angled in the right way, could’ve been more of a rival “off the track” to Jann and could’ve played a larger part in that regard. However, what’s presented works, but it would’ve been better (I think so) if Capa had more screen time in the film.
Other characters, including actress Emelia Hartford (Upon Waking and Nightfall) as Leah Vega, actor Pepe Barroso (45 rpm and High Seas) as Antonio Cruz, actor Sang Heon Lee (XO, Kitty) as Joo-Hwan Lee, Darren Barnet (Never Have I Ever and Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles) Matty Davis, Lindsay Pattison (making her debut with the movie) as Chloe McCormick , actor Nikhil Parmar (Foundation and The Rig) as Persol, actor Max Mundt (How to Sell Drugs Online and Susi) as Klaus Hoffman, actor Mariano Gonzalez (Once and Year of the Fox) as Henry Evas, and actor Harki Bhambra (Two Doors Down and Coronation Street) as Avi Bhatt, make up the roster of gamers that appear alongside Jann in the GTA academy competition. While these characters are limited (by design, of course), there appearance in the movie is welcomed and the acting talents who play them are fine.
Rounding out the rest of the cast, includes actor Niall McShea (Skam France and Play) as professional racer / second rival to Jann Federik Schulin, actor Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong and Valkyrie) as Nicholas’s father Patrice Capa, actor Jamie Kenna (The Bank Job and Biltz) as Jann’s pit crew member Jack Man Jones, and actor Richard Cambridge (Hollyoaks and Man Made) as a mechanic named Felix, fill out the minor supporting characters in the movie. While most of these players have limited screen time, their performance in the movie are still effectively good and I have nothing really bad to say about them. Lastly, actor Takehiro Hira (Snake Eyes and Girl / Haji) plays the role of Kazunori Yamauchi, the creator of the Gran Turismo games, while the real Yamauchi does make a cameo in the movie as a unnamed sushi chef in one scene.
Aimless with his life goals and ambitions, video gamer Jann Mardenbourgh gets his ultimate dreams chance of racing cars professional after winning a contest and embarks upon a journey of personal struggles and triumphs in the big leagues of pro racing in the movie Gran Turismo. Director Neil Blomkamp’s latest film mixes the video game racing simulation game of Sony’s Gran Turismo with the “based on a true story” narrative to create a unique and palpable sports drama that has plenty action thrills and suspense as well as a healthy dose of emotional “human” connection amongst its characters. While the film does prey to some common cliches of the genre and some questionable liberties taking with the “true life events”, the movie itself overcomes the obstacles and elevates itself thanks to Blomkamp’s direction / vision, emotional character drama, intense action sequences, a visual and sleek presentation, and solid acting across the board, with notable standouts of Madewe, Harbour, and Bloom respectfully. Personally, I really liked this movie. While there are few areas where the movie could’ve improved upon, I felt that a great majority was a fun and entertaining picture that harmonizes the video game aspects as well as the “real world” drama of which this movie draws inspiration from. I expected this movie to be good, but was more surprised how much I enjoyed it and certainly exceeded my expectations. Definitely was one of the “hidden gems” of the summer 2023 movie lineup. Is this the best video game film adaptation? I would say yes, but it’s also helps that the movie’s story is based on real-life and not solely on a game. So, it sort of goes hand-in-hand. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a favorable “highly recommended”; not just for fans of the game, but also for casual moviegoers, with the feature having mass appeal to the classic tropes of sports drama viewing. In the end, Gran Turismo is a terrific underdog tale that races to the finish line with a wholesome dose of emotional human drama and thrilling racing action to provide plenty of inspiration and sincere moments as well as driving home the sentimentally importance that dreams do come true.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: August 25th, 2023
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2023
Gran Turismo is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense action and some strong language