Gran Turismo Review – If You’re Not First, You’re Last

Mark Pacis

Gran Turismo

Basing the story off of Gran Turismo, a racing simulator with no predetermined storylines, was a headscratcher when first announced. However, creating a movie around Jann Mardenborough and his time at the GT Academy was a promising concept. After all, the GT Academy was far ahead of its time. It was a competitive e-sports series where gamers used Gran Turismo as a springboard to becoming a real-life, on-track race car driver. It’s become standard with the rise of e-sports and Formula 1 drivers, like Max Verstappen and Charles LeClerc, playing racing simulators to practice for the real thing nowadays. Yet, back in the early 2010s, it was a wild concept, and seeing Jann’s story on the big screen is sure to inspire.

That’s because Gran Turismo is a film that’s an amalgamation of almost every big underdog moment you’ve seen on film. It’s what you get when you distill Rocky and Ford v Ferrari with a pinch of Real Steel for good measure. These elements combine in an enjoyable (albeit highly predictable) underdog tale. The story also includes some underdeveloped subplots, which drag the movie longer than it should. 

Despite the paint-by-numbers storyline, Gran Turismo is a compelling and entertaining techno-sports human drama.

Nevertheless, the chemistry between David Harbour and Archie Madekwe drives the film (no pun intended). Nothing between them seemed forced, as their mentor-and-mentee relationship felt genuine. David Harbour is terrific here, having nearly perfected playing the washed-up character with a heart of gold. He’s never so arrogant and obnoxious that you don’t buy his growing relationship with Jann. Still, he carries enough of that burned-out, washed-up driver that his rough edges are also incredibly believable. It’s an excellent performance in an unexpectedly pleasing film. Madekwe is also rock-solid as Jann. Unfortunately, Orlando Bloom is under-utilized as Danny Moore. He doesn’t have much to do than be the guy in the shadows spearheading the GT Academy program.

Of course, we can’t talk about Gran Turismo without talking about the racing sequences. After a long hiatus from directing feature-length films, Neill Blomkamp is back to bring his visceral and unique visual flair to the film. Although the races aren’t as long as I’d hoped, Blomkamp and his cinematographer, Jacques Jouffret, use drone cameras and on-car camera rigs to give audiences the feeling of high-speed races. They’re highly reminiscent of Ken Block’s GYMKHANA videos.

Despite the paint-by-numbers storyline, Gran Turismo is a compelling and entertaining techno-sports human drama. Sure, there’s the David vs. Goliath angle to the film, but it’s more than that. There’s an actual heart to the story driving the film’s emotional plot. Gran Turismo may be a video game and sports movie, but the story’s heart comes through the drama of achieving your dreams.

Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

Gran Turismo hits theaters on August 25th.