► The new Gran Turismo movie out August 9th
► The Real Driving Simulator comes to the big screen
► Tells the real-life story of Jann Mardenborough
Gran Turismo has made the jump from consoles to the silver screen, and on paper the new film has promise. Before we even get into the plot, the personnel seem solid; it’s directed by Neil Blomkamp of District 9, Chappie and Elysium fame and he’s working with a solid cast: David Harbour of Stranger Things and Orlando Bloom form two points of a triangle, with the third being the relatively unknown Archie Madekwe. It’s backed by Sony, Gran Turismo and Nissan too – so it should be good right? Keep reading for our full review of the new Gran Turismo movie.
Gran Turismo on the GT Academy, an early eSports competition that aimed to find a gamer and turn them into a real-life driver. It follows the story of Jann Mardenborough, a sim-racer from Cardiff who eventually makes it to the podium at Le Mans.
First the good: it takes a while to get going, but for most of the time Gran Turismo is essentially Top Gun with Nismo GTRs. It’s a film made for people that love driving, by people that love driving, and in that respect it has a lot in common with the game itself.
The action scenes are some of the best we’ve seen in a car-centric film, and they really capture the claustrophobic, visceral feel of motorsport. Many of the action sequences really hammer home the heat and noise of racing – as well as the concentration needed to get round a lap. In the cinema especially, it’s full-on with great sound design and rich visuals.
It constantly refers to its console roots though, so it’s full of slick nods to the game. The viewer’s point of view will sometimes switch to the chase cam (hilarious when Jann is driving his dad’s banged-up VW) and at other times the screen will look just like the game – complete with position numbers above cars. When Jann gets into the zone on a sim rig, a virtual car assembles around him in a neat Transformers-style effect.
Some easter eggs are less subtle but they’re there for those Real Driving Simulator aficionados. The film uses the confirmation ‘bing’ of the game menus throughout, and when we first see Cardiff, it looks a lot like the home screen of Gran Turismo 7 too. There’s also a very familiar-looking chef when Jann is in Tokyo…
At its heart, Gran Turismo is powered by three characters, Jann, Danny the Nissan marketing guy and Jack, the retired racer. Harbour, who plays the latter, pushes this film up a level and carries it in parts. The dialogue is somewhat flat at the beginning, but as the bond between Jann and Jack strengthens, Harbour’s performance gains momentum. By the end of the film, it’s impossible to look away.
Orlando Bloom’s character starts off equally slow, but he nails the complex role of someone in it for the marketing – but also for the pure idealism of the project.
And then there’s Jann played by Madekwe. Harbour will rightly take the plaudits, but Madekwe’s role is quietly just as good. We first meet him as an awkward teenager, but as he progresses through the GT Academy we start to see the confidence he has in the virtual world spread to the real one. He’s not a traditional Hollywood main character and doesn’t ooze determination or confidence, but that’s exactly what you’d expect of a young sim racer. It’s what makes him likable, and the story captivating.
The film doesn’t shy away from the tragic element of Jann’s story either, and it’s in these moments that you forget you’re watching a film of a video game at all. There’s real emotion in these parts, and the performance of the core cast in these tougher moments make for some emotive scenes.
Most of the supporting characters are good too; Jann’s dad, played by Djimon Hounsou, has relatively flat dialogue at the beginning but makes it powerful and moving when the scene requires it. There’s also an entitled European driver with a powerful father who’s also very unlikeable – and dirty on track too. Not sure who they based that on…
So, what doesn’t work?
While a lot of the characters deliver strong performances, Geri Halliwell-Horner (as Jann’s mother) doesn’t deliver the same intensity as the rest of the cast – and in some key scenes it can take you out of the moment. Some of the other characters seem unnecessary, too; a Nissan mechanic finds the time to insult Jann for being a gamer – during a pitstop. Really?
The beginning of the film is clunky at best, but that’s partly because it has a lot of heavy lifting to do. In 30 minutes, it must introduce Jann’s life in Cardiff, explain the premise of Gran Turismo, and outline the concept of eSports to newcomers. It’s a hard task, but it could do so more elegantly.
You’re forced to sit through some very heavy-handed scenes that hammer home just how against the odds Jann’s story is, just how different gaming is to real life, and just how much of a risk it was for Nissan to take part. The point isn’t just conveyed, it’s machine-gunned.
The above makes for a difficult first stint, things soon pick up. Once we get the Top Gun-esque GT Academy, the film and its cast really hit their stride. It’s at those times it’s hard to really tear yourself away from the screen – truly an achievement. Visuals, characters and dialogue all make Jann’s journey one hell of a rollercoaster, and one you legitimately want to be on.
I have one major issue, though: annoyingly Gran Turismo also commits the same sin as so many other racing films: Jann always changes down and accelerates when he decides to win – as if he’s not going at full speed already. I expected this of Need for Speed and the Fast and Furious franchise – but I expected better from Gran Turismo. Come on Kaz!
So, is Gran Turismo worth watching? It was always going to be worth a look for gamers and car fans, and in that sense it actually delivers. It has all the style, detail and passion you’d expect of Kazunori Yamauchi and the Gran Turismo franchise.
The pleasant surprise here is that it adds enough emotion, drama and jeopardy to be a gripping standalone production; it’s a film conceived by petrolheads, executed by great performances and visuals, and it tells an incredible story that will appeal to everyone.