"Gran Turismo" Offers High Octane Thrills and a Rushed Story
If there is anything that the Gran Turismo film does right is show a great love of the work of Kazunori Yamauchi and the Gran Turismo video game series as a whole. While the games celebrated cars, this movie celebrates all the fine work behind the realism of the series as well as the reality tv style racing contest: Nissan GT Academy. Based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough, the youngest winner of GT Academy back in 2011, we have an edge of your seat high octane racing film that’s bogged down by the real world emotional details of its history.
The story begins with an introduction to Gran Turismo with a brief history of the games’ development and its impact on the gaming culture. We are then introduced to our main character, Jann Mardenborough, a young college dropout being pressured by his ex pro footballer father, to make something of himself. He escapes these pressures by spending most of his time playing Gran Turismo, to which he is exceptional. It’s from here we get an introduction to Orlando Bloom’s character, Danny Moore, based on real life Nissan executive Darren Cox. Danny's dream is to bring sim racing to the real world with GT Academy. We also get Jack Salter, a fictional character played by David Harbour. Jack is a racing engineer, who works for a well established racing team but is fed up with the attitudes of the racers. David Harbour is a major force of nature here. He commands attention and brings the movie up in an emotional love. It’s top notch and only rivaled to his performance in Stranger Things.
From here we get Danny recruiting Jack to help him create this new GT Academy including convincing both Nissan and the creators of the video game. It begins with a competition, where racers are established through tournaments in the game, Jann barely making it on time for his placement. Still, Jann makes it into the academy and we’re off to the races. Then it’s a grueling montage of intense training (both in and out of the car) and eliminations of the contestants until Jann remains. The movie has a tendency to fast track a lot of the events of the story for the sake of brevity which works in its favor and against. I wish we would’ve spent more time during the GT Academy because the contestants get a decent amount of personality from the minimal screen time they get.
Once Jann is established, we move to his trials and tribulations in establishing himself as a legitimate player within the racing world. As it would seem, the racing community doesn’t take kindly to “sim racers” and wants to keep them out. These lead to some intense rivalries, adrenaline pumping races, and fantastic cinematography, courtesy of director Neill Blomkamp. I genuinely found myself sitting up on the edge of my seat during these races. Outside of a few nauseating angles, I felt like the film did its best to put you in the driver's seat. I was in awe, my heart was racing and I was onboard for all of it. Occasionally they would throw in some video game graphical overlays but it didn’t detract from the intensity but serves as a reminder, “hey remember, this is a video game.”
The faults come in with a mandatory tacked on love interest in Audrey, played by Maeve Coutier-Lily. She acts as a vessel for Jann to express his overall motivations and determination with little else to do in the film. After that, despite clocking in at over 2 hours long, the film still felt rushed. There is obviously a lot of ground to cover with Janns’ illustrious career but some story beats needed a little more room to breathe, like his relationship with his father, played masterfully by Djimon Hounsou. There was a lot to explore there but instead we're given only a few quick scenes to establish anything.
Despite how much I enjoyed the film, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the problematic nature of one crucial plot point. That is the nature of his infamous crash at Nurburgring. Specifically when Janns’ car flew off a track, killing a spectator. This was in no fault to Jann and is explained as such in the movie, it’s used as an emotional hurdle for our protagonists. The tricky part is that this event, while real, happened further into Janns’ career. Thus, it was one key point in a long running career, cherry picked for the film, which can be perceived as in poor taste. The emotional toll the crash took on Jann was well written and respectful, but to use this event to benefit the film is a questionable decision.
At the end of the day, Gran Turismo works both as a love letter to that Playstation One classic, as well as an effective marketing device. It’s a great thrill ride blockbuster that opts out of some emotional story elements to milk less appropriate ones. The dynamic and extraordinary race sequences are second to none and David Harbour some of his best acting work to date. Regardless of the problematic nature of some of the factual events presented in the movie, it remains an underdog spectacle worth seeing and in the upper echelon of video game movies.