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Review: Gran Turismo (2023)

Gran Turismo (2023)

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Premise: Based on true events. A nineteen-year-old video gamer (Archie Madekwe) wins a contest sponsored by Nissan to become a professional race car driver.

What Works: Gran Turismo distinguishes itself with a cast of likable and well rendered characters. The movie is led by Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough, a nineteen-year-old British video gamer who is obsessed with Sony’s racing simulation game. As a sports film, Gran Turismo needs to convey the passion and struggle of its protagonist as he suffers toward greatness and Madekwe coveys those qualities. The character’s enthusiasm for racing is evident throughout Madekwe’s performance and it is infectious; we want to see him win. In sports films the best roles are usually the coaches, such as Pat Morita in The Karate Kid and Gene Hackman in Hoosiers. David Harbour is terrific in Gran Turismo as a professional driver guiding the gamers to become real racers. Harbour is very funny and his gruffness belies a genuine concern for the racers’ safety and wellbeing. Gran Turismo successfully captures the danger and excitement of racing. The car sequences are kinetic and visceral and viewed in a theater with a good sound system, Gran Turismo’s audio mix creates a thrilling aural experience. The filmmakers also merge video game elements into some of the racing scenes but do so in a way that makes sense and enhances the story of Mardenborough’s transition from simulation to real life racing. Gran Turismo has to be understood as part of a marketing piece for Sony and for Nisson; it is a commercial for their products. However, the filmmakers acknowledge that fact and use it self-reflexively in the movie.

What Doesn’t: The best sports films are about more than the sport. Rocky is about a man fighting for his dignity, Friday Night Lights is about the culture of high school football, and Field of Dreams is about the relationship between a father and son. Gran Turismo doesn’t have anything that compelling going on beneath the surface. It is ultimately just about the racing. Jann Mardenborough’s life story is engaging enough to make for a satisfying movie but it is also shallow. The filmmakers attempt to give their movie some depth by dramatizing the conflict between Mardenborough and his father (Djimon Hounsou) who doesn’t understand racing and fears for his son. The family subplot is perfunctory and cliché.

Bottom Line: Gran Turismo is an entertaining racing picture. It’s got exciting and kinetic racing scenes and a satisfying story populated by likable characters. There’s not much more to it than that but Gran Turismo works as a piece of entertainment.

Episode: #963 (September 3, 2023)