Based on the incredible true story of professional gamer-turned-racer Jann Mardenborough, Neill Blomkamp’s latest aims to be the thrillride of the summer. Read our Gran Turismo review.
In a year full of incredible and successful video game adaptations, Gran Turismo has chosen a different path. Sure, it borrows its title from the ridiculously successful and downright legendary video game, but to describe it as a video game film feels completely wrong.
See, Gran Turismo is a true story. Gran Turismo, the game that is, is essential to the story, but not the whole story. Instead, Neill Blomkamp’s latest film focuses on the real life racer Jann Mardenborough.
Mardenborough, played here by Archie Madekwe, went from a Gran Turismo fan and avid gamer to a real-life racer after he was enrolled into Gran Turismo Academy, Nissan’s egregious plan to turn gamers into racers.
Gran Turismo (the film) chronicles Mardenborough’s ups and downs on his journey to the iconic 24-hour Le Mans race. Orlando Bloom plays Danny Moore, a sleazy but sincere Nissan marketing executive. The character is based on Darren Cox, the real-life exec who came up with the idea of the GT Academy.
David Harbour plays Jack Salter, the slightly unwilling lead engineer, who trains Mardenborough and his fellow gamers to learn the tricks and dangers of the race tracks. Mardenborough and his friends/competitors are constantly told racing is insanely dangerous and that they will end up dead on the side of the track sooner or later.
And this is the film’s central issue. Blomkamp tells us many things, but rarely shows us. Gran Turismo lacks stakes and there’s no real sense of danger; it’s one thing to be told there is danger and another to immerse your viewer in it so they actually believe it.
Structurally, Gran Turismo faces the same issue as every other biopic film. It sets up constant obstacles for Mardenborough to overcome, but the film lacks tension because we already know Mardenborough will triumph at the Academy as he will in certain races, despite Blomkamp trying to create suspense that he might get kicked out.
If you’re able to forgive Gran Turismo for such obvious flaws, there is fun to be had here. The central trio of actors are all on fine form. Madekwe is an empathetic lead and sells the underwritten parts of Mardenborough’s character with conviction. Bloom is in his element, playing Moore as an arrogant, ruthlessly business-oriented peacock.
Harbour, however, is the heart of the film. I quickly realised that I wasn’t very interested in the story itself, but I was completely invested in the character relationships and dynamics. The father-son relationship between Harbour and Madekwe works well, even if it steals the thunder from the actual father-son dynamic between Mardenborough and his demanding father (played with gusto by Djimon Hounsou) which is supposed to be film’s emotional core.
Ultimately, Gran Turismo doesn’t offer much of anything, except for somewhat competent popcorn entertainment. Blomkamp showed so much promise with District 9, but his later directorial efforts, Chappie, Elysium and the absolutely awful Demonic, have proved disappointing. Gran Turismo showcases Blomkamp’s usual maximalist directorial style, which can’t bring the script, penned by Zach Baylin and Jason Hall, together.
Then again, when you have a mediocre script like this, it helps when you have such a charismatic cast. Without the warmth and humour brought by Harbour, the innocence by Madekwe and the sheer gleeful joy by Bloom, Gran Turismo would be a lesser film. It’s a decent movie, not due to Blomkamp’s steering of the ship, but despite it.
Gran Turismo is in cinemas 11 August.