Following both the Uncharted film and The Last of Us TV series, Kazunori Yamauchi’s racing simulation Gran Turismo is PlayStation Productions’ latest video game adaptation, but it arrives with a bit of a twist.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Gran Turismo isn’t quite the straightforward adaptation you might be expecting. Instead, it tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough, a talented young gamer who was selected to compete at the Nissan GT Academy for a chance to become a real-life professional racing driver. The choice to tell Jann’s story makes Gran Turismo quite a unique hybrid of video game adaptation and sports biopic, and although at first it seems like a bizarre combination, it actually ends up working in the film’s favour.
Gran Turismo is able to establish this premise effectively thanks to its strong production value that effortlessly sells the wgorld of professional racing. This is of course courtesy of PlayStation and Nissan, who both feature heavily throughout the film. Focusing so much on these two brands could be considered nothing more than a shameless two-hour advertisement – and in many ways, it is just that – but given how intrinsic they both are to the plot, it’s also easy to accept and excuse their presence. As to whether it’s through the impressive collection of cars featured, the realistic costume design, or the sections of Gran Turismo gameplay, their involvement brings a welcome level of authenticity to the film.
The same can be said for the racing sequences, which are Gran Turismo’s greatest asset. Full of energy and excitement, there is plenty of automobile action throughout. Blomkamp and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret shoot these scenes with much variation, creating a lively viewing experience that avoids repetition. They are further enhanced by the film’s sound design, which really puts the audience right in the passenger seat, allowing every single tire screech and engine rev to be felt.
However, some excessive editing does tamper with the increasing momentum of these moments. Pausing the action mid-race for updates on lap numbers and competitor positions as if it was the game Gran Turismo, rather than the film, only serves to detract from the exciting atmosphere. Thankfully, these pauses never linger long enough to have a lasting effect. The film goes on to redeem itself by successfully blending some more interesting elements of gameplay into the real racing sequences, allowing for some creative and unexpected visuals. These ensure that while Gran Turismo navigates its runtime on the racetrack, its pedal is firmly to the metal.
Where the film does encounter some speed bumps though is when the action moves off the tarmac. This in turn exposes the weaker aspects of its screenplay, as other than its distinctive composition of video game adaptation and racing movie, Gran Turismo is largely a by-the-numbers sports drama. It indulges in all the clichés of the genre without hesitation: it’s got the underdog rookie, the retired mentor, the terrible sporting metaphors and, of course, the training montage. Nevertheless, the film somehow gets away with it all thanks to the strength of the aforementioned racing sequences and the charm of its main cast.
Archie Madekwe’s youthful ambition is a great fit for the lead role, assuredly conveying Jann’s passion and desire to have his dream taken seriously. Alongside him, David Harbour plays Jann’s mentor, Jack Salter. And despite the tropes that this kind of role brings, Harbour adds a credible sincerity to his performance, which makes it easy to become invested in the pair’s relationship as they share a genuinely heartfelt chemistry. The remaining cast, which includes Orlando Bloom and Djimon Hounsou, aren’t given a great deal to do. Although, when it comes to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell-Horner, this might be for the best. Her presence can only be explained by her husband’s involvement in motorsports, as it certainly isn’t her acting ability, or lack of, that secured her role here.
So while Gran Turismo doesn’t necessarily offer any particularly deep or nuanced performances and its script is as clichéd as they come, it does deliver what’s really important: high-octane racing. Everything else is simply a vehicle for this action, and when that vehicle has as glossy a sheen to it as this PlayStation Nissan collaboration does, it’s hard not to get swept up by the shiny spectacle of it all. Sure, it’s a few gears short of hitting full speed, but Gran Turismo has more than enough gas in its tank to take audiences for a satisfying cinematic spin.
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Despite its cliché-ridden script and abundance of genre tropes, Gran Turismo is an adrenaline-fuelled racing movie with enough production value to drive it over the line.
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