A young gamer finds himself thrown into the world of racing after he wins an elite competition.
Hold the award for most surprising film of 2023 because Gran Turismo just took a huge lunge for the chequered flag. You could be forgiven that this would be just a big, dumb action film based on a video game. Certainly, many won’t expect for this to be a film that goes deep into human emotion about achieving your dreams or looking at the psyche that it takes to be a car racer… yet that is exactly what the film manages to do.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) Gran Turismo tells the true story of car racer Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe – Midsommar). The film chronicles how Jann made history by taking part in an unique racing program developed by Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom – The Lord Of The Rings). That program took the best SIMS racers, basically gamers good at Gran Turismo, and entered them into a program that would see them train to become actual car racers.
The film shows how Jann had to overcome the doubts of not only his soccer-playing father, Steve (Djimon Hounsou – Guardians Of The Galaxy), but also the man hired to make him a car racer, the gifted Jack Salter (David Harbour – Stranger Things). It may seem that the whole world is against him but Jann is determined to make something of himself in the world of car racing.
You may have noticed that Sony have gone out of their way to show cinemagoers that Gran Turismo is a true story and not just a film based a video game. From adding the ‘true story’ tag to the films poster and trailer and even having some cinemas mention it on their session schedule screen next to the film’s title. It may have seemed like overkill, but this film deserves to have the fact pointed out because this is more than just a video game movie – this goes into the same realm of films like Rush.
Some of the things that Blomkamp does with the film is pretty amazing. From the special effects and visuals that help meld the film into a fusion of video game and real life through to the fact that the film becomes more of a character study rather than a Fast & Furious wannabe it seems that Blomkamp was the right director to make this film something special.
Of course, he is also aided by screenwriters Jason Hall (Thank You For Your Service) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) who set about getting rid of all cliches and instead make this a character study of not only Jann but the man who helped shape him – Jack Salter. The fact that the film then delves into deep topics such as how does a racer deal with the aftereffects of an accident that has resulted in somebody’s death just adds surprising depth to the film.
Even the fact that Hall and Baylin know how to handle the rivalry between Jann and Jack with fellow racer Nicholas Capa (Josha Stadowski – The Wheel Of Time) shows a maturity with their writing that is really seen in films like this one. That rivalry really could have been overblown, such as the ones in the Creed films, but here it is simply used as a tool to make both Jann and Jack more determined to succeed in their roles.
Surprisingly the screenplay will also see the audience go through a whole range of emotions. From potential tears falling during the scenes after Jann’s accident through to laughs at the choice of music that both Jann and Jack use to get them into a ‘racing’ mood the audience will find themselves at the whim of two screenwriters who really know how to deliver a well-rounded screenplay.
That screenplay also allows for some great acting performances by both David Harbour and Archie Madekwe. Habour embraces getting a big screen role outside of the action realm and his skills shine during the more intense moments of the film. Likewise, Madekwe shows Hollywood that he is more than ready to become a star that can carry a film – his likeness to the actual Jann Mardenborough is just the icing on the cake.
The film does have some weaknesses though. First of all it can’t be considered a true reflection on either Jann’s life or career as there are some inconsistencies to what happened in real life while at other times it feels like the film just doesn’t capitalise on the suspense that could be generated in some scenes. Still those negatives are hugely over-shadowed by the positives.
Gran Turismo certainly won’t win many awards, but this is still a film that is a lot better than many will give it credit for. The character studies it contains into both a car racer and team manager is surprising while the story itself is something that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Gran Turismo is one of the biggest surprises of 2023.