Gran Turismo Movie Review

Gran Turismo
Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo is a glossy, consumable piece of promotional nonsense – an overblown infomercial with real appeal to the masses hidden inside. What the movie promotes is its own source material, a bestselling lineup of car racing computer games being one of PlayStation’s biggest world titles. The film however comes across as if it were a pushy salesman on the dealership floor who points out key features and marvels at how clever Polyphony boss Kazunori Yamauchi (played by Takehiro Hira onscreen — although there could be seen real Yamauchi reprising his role as sushi chef) can get. However, the sound of racing engines eventually overwhelms that sales pitch and allows for the placement of some products in between stirring sports-movie cliché.

Perhaps this is the first video game adaptation based on a true story – in this case, Jann Mardenborough’s British teenager who got his chance in 2011 to exchange his industrial career for sitting behind a virtual steering wheel (sold separately and lovingly displayed in the film) by turning left very quickly IRL. The Cinderella tale has been altered drastically by Gran Turismo, making it more conventional by following the ‘beat-the-odds’ motif. Naturally, Jann’s father (Djimon Hounsou) acts as young Jann’s first naysayer which apparently isn’t even fair since what he tells him is that being good at playing driving games doesn’t entitle him to be good at driving real race cars.

Gran Turismo isn’t just another driving game though; somebody even says explicitly it’s an advanced drive simulator – like many other lines reminiscent of Sony Interactive Entertainment notes throughout the dialogue. “I played the game and It was amazing” stated ambitious Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), whose character bears some resemblance to GT Academy founder Darren Cox. Attracting an untapped market of potential car buyers is part of the speech that Danny assures the suits will follow from recruiting players into the professional racing circuit… this may as well be how they got the movie to happen. Bloom’s acting here looks like he is starring in his own marginal corporate Air-like biopic.

By winning a qualifying multiplayer match, Jann slips into an extended basic training montage which is like Top Gun in microcosm, including an inexplicably hostile rival at the academy (Darren Barnet) who reminds us of Iceman. Besides, he falls under the watchful and skeptical eye of an older race car driver played by David Harbour who has been gradually increasing his involvement with all mediocre Hollywood franchises these days. Harbor gives all of it away in hackneyed mentor stuff: aged-legend grouchiness, pit-stop pep talks, and eventual conversion to real fanatics. This is one reason why when it touches on the real heart and soul of something like Rocky occasionally, this film really does so.

Opening up a showroom documentary on the Gran Turismo legacy, something that feels more like it was leaked from a stockholders meeting and directed by Neill Blomkamp (of District 9 fame and Chappie infamy). More than ten years after his plans for a big-screen Halo fell apart, Blomkamp has finally made a video game movie. This is his lane; without any aspirations to allegory, he just goes all out in terms of speed thus cutting through the rise-to-fame boilerplate.

At first, you wonder if the filmmaker has the chops for the gig. It’s nearly impossible to follow an early joy-ride getaway from the cops which is hard enough to remember since Blomkamp idiotically montages straight through Jann’s first time behind the wheel which ought to have been as awesome as any religious experience but instead looks like an unimportant cutscene. However, Blomkamp does come off well during actual race sequences progressively building into spectacles of thunderous noise and electrifying velocity. Throughout this film, Blomkamp flies all over every inch of the track using sweeping drone shots from above; swooping down close-ups on drivers’ faces as they play out their life-or-death races; and indulges himself in cars fetishism. He even uses still frames to freeze position changes while juxtaposing real racing mechanics with visual language found in games. And eventually there is one really brutal accident (though where this crash falls within the sequence of events, right before that final act again displays some sloppiness on its part).

Though mechanically sounding like a modern big-budget movie apparatus engine, its narrative structure tells us it is old-school. It’s like a rags-to-riches simulator of fairy tales. Jann can’t let ridiculous snobs in European race aristocracy who call him “the gamer” or even his own doubting teammates distract him – he is the most classic of underdogs. It’s a fight against the worldwide racing hierarchy, which believes that money governs everything, yet still, it’s quite hilarious how Sony and Nissan, transnational corporations are depicted as tiny start-ups. The movie eventually goes full Ford PvP Ferrari with a climactic bid for respect at the world’s most notoriously challenging race, 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In sum, this is a wish-fulfillment fantasy drawn from leaderboards in real life. In fact, his own digital hours on hours make Jann see racing differently from now on (for instance he can see what lines to take when passing pros that they do not). This commercial has to be modified by adding walking as well as pedal pressing since Jann epitomizes how beneficial it is to put in some time using joystick controllers. No more so than “video games help with your hand-eye coordination,” has the target audience been given such an effective pitch for why their preferred pastime actually matters. Play enough games, argues Gran Turismo, and perhaps you could be motor sports’ next big thing! This comes on condition that those games are accompanied by breathtaking visuals, realistic car physics and limitless tuning possibilities like in Gran Turismo 7 available at just $49.69.


Blomkamp’s D9 is full of lively pace and cheesy excitement in his incursion into the world of video game adaptation in his first-ever attempt. This movie is a sports film to the core, with just enough sincerity (a lot thereof coming from David Harbour who plays a veteran racer turned coach as always) to make you ignore how Gran Turismo squashes every frame with self-promotion ads for its own games.

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