15 June 2024

Film Review – Gran Turismo (2023)

We’ve had films based on video games before with varying degrees of success (though mostly bombs) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have another one racing into cinemas this week but what is surprising is the game on which it is based. A big-screen adaptation of a racing simulator? Like us, we’re sure you also made a face and gesture similar to that of the Minions “What?!” GIF that so many use online. Shocked doesn’t quite cover it. You can see Street Fighter, Sonic, and Super Mario Bros coming to life in some shape, but Gran Turismo?? Seems like a hiding to nothing. So imagine our surprise that not only does it exist in the real world, but that it’s actually kind of good?!

When you see the words “based on a true story” at the beginning of a film, you begin to think two things: if that is indeed true or a funny gag a la Anchorman, and if it is true, then how the hell did this happen? Both are true of Gran Turismo and yes, it is based on a true story. There were some cackles of laughter at that sentence when this writer saw the film but, by the end, the truth emerged. We shouldn’t have been surprised given the amount of reality television series/competitions reigning supreme on the airwaves these days, but a real-life academy that tries to see if the GT players can actually race in professional, high-octane, no-holds-barred, hugely dangerous real-life races?

Sounds like a commercial for something else if you ask us. Neill Blomkamp’s loud, vacuous yet entertaining film feels more like a corporate tie-in than a film. Still, despite all the contrivances, laboured plotting (Rocky blueprint – check), and countless advertisements under the hood, the chassis has much more fun in store for you than the increasingly ponderous Fast & Furious franchise. Taking his cues more from James Mangold’s superb Le Mans 66 or Ron Howard’s hugely-underrated Rush than the exhausting franchise above, this really FEELS like racing and, by extension, like GT come to life.

Cameras swoop (the drone budget must have been huge), cars roar and do almost-impossible things, fans cheer and the need for speed continues to rise as Blomkamp and co stay true to the spirit of what was aimed for when the game was created back in 1997 by Kazunori Yamauchi. It brings us some truly brilliant and energetic set-pieces that help make up for its shortcomings, none perhaps worse than Orlando Bloom’s spectacularly bad turn as the big marketing executive who came up with the big idea of the GT Academy. Thankfully, the always-wonderful David Harbour is on hand with his gruff, sarcastic wit and expert timing as Jack Salter to keep things afloat alongside a winning central turn from Archie Madekwe as the film’s lead, real-life GT racer Jann Mardenborough.

While its origins are questionable, it’s something of a win that Gran Turismo doesn’t go straight into the video-game-adaptation bin of despair and actually turns out to be an exciting, if hugely flawed late-summer spectacular whose crowd-pleasing sensibilities may well win a legion of fans. Blomkamp, too, deserves praise for attempting to even contemplate taking this one, let alone pulling it off, just, in the way that he does and showcases his huge abilities as a filmmaker that had come into question since the brilliant District 9. Whether it hits big and wins new fans is the big question, and releasing during the maelstrom of Barbenheimer, may well see it crash and burn, but not in the way many had probably anticipated.

★★★

2023 | Action, Thriller, Drama | Sony Pictures UK | 12A | Dir: Neill Blomkamp | David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Djimon Hounsou, Geri Halliwell, Darren Barnet, Emelia Hartford


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