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Gran Turismo: Feel the Need for Speed, or Something Similar

Car racing from Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO.  Photo by: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Gran Turismo preview screening provider by Sony Pictures

Gran Turismo doesn’t tread too far from similar underdog racing movies, but it has enough torque to keep you entertained”

Whether you’re a hardcore gamer, hobbyist or someone with zero interest in video games, there’s a high chance you’ve probably come across the words ‘Gran Turismo’ somewhere in your life, be it from a gamer friend, at an arcade or convention with bucket seats and racing simulators, or just through some form of marketing. The racing series, the most realistic of its kind in attention to detail and scope, has been around since the early 90s, and after sitting in development for around 10 years, it finally has its live-action adaptation. 

And why not when countless other video game adaptations are cashing in either on the big screen like the Sonic movies, Uncharted (2022) and Mortal Kombat (2021), or finding success on the small screen like The Last of Us and Halo. It’s even more fitting that Gran Turismo 7 (the latest entry in this series of games) was released a little over a year ago. But Neil Blomkamp’s (District 9, Elysium) latest isn’t exactly a beat-for-beat adaptation in ways some of those titles are which makes sense given this series doesn’t exactly lend itself to a straight port to movies. 

Taking its inspiration from a true story, this Gran Turismo acts almost as an underdog story which makes sense for any racing film given the ‘rising-the-ranks’ approach is a tried and true formula (see 2019’s Ford v Ferrari or 1990 classic Days of Thunder). 

Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) loves his humble racing set-up, and now he’s got a new steering wheel to go with it, allowing him to crush his virtual competition to a pixel. His father (Dijon Hounsou), a former professional footballer-turned-train-builder-of-sorts, sees this as a waste of time, but that doesn’t stop Jann from pursuing what he loves. 

Unbeknown to Jann, established marketer Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) feels the same and has an idea: source the best GT gamers in the world, get them to compete against each other, and put the winner behind the wheel of a real supercar against pro drivers. It sounds like a marketers wet dream, and fortunately for Danny, Nissan feel the same way. It also equally sounds like the most absurd premise for a movie but also one that just makes sense (I’d pay for a Call of Duty movie taking the same approach). But for Danny to make his idea work, there’s the condition of sourcing a high-profile racing expert to train these drivers. That talent comes in the form of the reluctant Jack Salter (David Harbour), a former racer who’s looking to step out of the ‘has been’ shadow he’s found himself in. 

David Harbour stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

David Harbour stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

Cue the signature plot development that informs any sports film or biopic focusing on a rags-to-riches story. For Jann though, money isn’t the end game. Unlike the worst (or most predictable) versions of these films where characters often spiral once they reach fame and get their pay-check, for Jann it comes in the form of a near-death and death experience. It’s arguably the film’s most climactic moment, one that drowns out all the noise in the cinema like that detonation scene in Oppenheimer (2023). Though Gran Turismo doesn’t have any atomic bombs in it, this scene hits like one as it captures the sensation of being helpless and facing an unpredictable situation.

It really is the track racing that sells this film much more than the story at its core. The cars here were driven by professionals (including that of the real Jann Mardenborough), and slick camerawork lets the driving sequences really feel like that of the game, with added guidelines mimicking the feeling gamers have when racing. 

There are some notable shortcomings though, with the film’s pacing being a bit abrupt and there is some really corny dialogue ––– like a moment where Jann makes a remark that his brakes were “glazed” resulting in a crash, Jack questions it and tells him he’ll be going home if he’s wrong, and the next cut proves that Jann was right. 

A benefit of the games is that 99% of the focus is on the driving, with any story or dialogue being superfluous and really serving more as an afterthought. It might be why this film struggles to land any emotional punch or weight behind the action given the script is quite thin. The cast seem equally uncharismatic, with Madekwe’s performance lacking in expressivity (mainly through his very monotone delivery of dialogue). To call this entirely his fault would be an overstatement given the direction doesn’t do him any justice. Bloom’s performance is equally stifled, with Harbour really the only one trying to add some flare. 

Whether or not Gran Turismo will incite audiences to check out the games (if they already haven’t) isn’t clear ––– I felt curious to revisit them, but that thought quickly faded. It doesn’t help that GT7 was received quite poorly when it released. The Need for Speed (2014) movie set the bar so low for video game adaptations that I’m sure Gran Turismo will have no trouble attracting a much more satisfied audience. 

Gran Turismo opens nationally from the 10th of August, 2023. 


Arnel Duracak

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