Movie recommendation: Gran Turismo
You know, even now after string of pretty successful releases news of another video game to movie adaptation fills me with the kind of low-level dread normally reserved for attractive young women left alone in the company of male feminists, but if you told me that a movie based off a racing simulator of all things would turn out to be one of the best true life Sports dramas I've seen since "Ford vs Ferrari" I would have quietly rightly laughed in your face and yet, that's exactly what Gran Turismo somehow is!
Don't get me wrong, it's not exactly Motorsport answer to Rocky or anything, the first 30 minutes feel like an extended advert for all things Sony and Nissan and I don't imagine it's going to be clearing up at the next Academy Awards, but what it does deliver is a simple honest and surprisingly heartwarming story about an underdog thrown unprepared into a whole new world and battling his way through adversity and setbacks to reach the top helped along the way by a cranky but well-meaning Mentor who gradually warms to him.
GT is a classic story told by a director who knows exactly how to wrap action in space practical around compelling human drama and it's made all the more interesting because it's actually based on real events. The movie is told Through The Eyes of Jann Mardenborough, a teenager from England who spends most of his days obsessively playing Gran Turismo much to the disapproval of his father who believes he's wasting his life away, but that all changes one day when Jann and a handful of other players get a mysterious message from the good Folks at Nissan, revealing that the top Gran Turismo players from around the world have been selected to train his real-life race car drivers.
Whoever clenches the top Place wins a spot on the Nissan racing team from the upcoming season, an idea that's so goofy and dangerously impractical that it could possibly have sprung from the minds of real-life advertising Executives. Anyway before you know it Jann and his fellow Gamers have been whisked off the GT Academy where they get put through their Paces by Jack Salter, a retired driver who's been given the task of turning a bunch of skinny teenage video game addicts into top level Racers.
Jack doesn't think it's a very good idea and makes it this business to prove that the whole school is a complete waste of time. Needless to say not everyone makes the cut, but the Salters surprise Jann manages to hang in there and eventually captures the top spot earning himself a contract for the season aheads. Pretty soon he's in his first race which turns out to be a real baptism by fire. His fellow Racers and even his own pit crew treat him as kind of a joke and do their best to force him right out the Spore and when a near fatal crash threatens to prove them all right will Jann have what it takes to fight his way back or will he give up and walk away for goods?
Now I would be lying if I said there was anything particulary subversive or unexpected in Gran Turismo in many ways it's content to drive a well-worn and reliable path with all the stock elements you'd expect from a sports drama like this. The Plucky Underdog given a million to One Shot The Grouchy and aggressive Mentor who seems Unforgiven But pushes him to reach his true potential. The early success that shows what he can accomplish the disastrous setback that damages his cinfidence and forces him to dig deep for a triumphant comeback the ends. It's all here and it all works perfectly well partly because there's a kind of earnest sincerity to everything that it does that seems almost like a Charming throwback to a different era at this point where the young up-and-coming actor Archie Madekwe brings a convincing performance to the screen in his role as Jann Mardenborough, which even the portrayed racing driver himself could not have acted better.
In this movie is no self-deprecating jokes trying to undercut every moment of serious drama, no attempt to poke fun at how silly the concept is. Gran Turismo wants you tu buy into its premise and the people involved in it, so the dramatic moments actually hit home with real impacts. The second reason is the direction, Neil Blomcamp has been a favorite of mine ever since District 9 burst onto our screens more than a decade ago, but I think ever since then he struggled to find his Niche.
Gran Turismo proves that he's absolutely still got it as an action director, the racing scenes are excellent and he makes liberal use of video game overlays to help the audience keep track of who's in what position. There's lots of little cutaways to engines and machine parts working away and I'll be honest here it's always nice to see a bit of gear porn in movies like this. Blomkamp knows exactly who his audience is and he's happy to give them exactly what they want. The other key element is the almost father-son relationship between Jann and Jack at the core of the movie which developed slowly over the course of the film and never feels rushed or contrived.
By the way, probs to David Harbor on this one, the guy absolutely steals the show delivering the kind of commanding World weary performance you'd expect from a guy who's been there and done that long before our protagonist. Oh My Goodness, a movie that portrays an aging old white man as a source of valuable wisdom and motivation and hard-won life advice? Whatsoever next?😱 But let's be serious, if I had to level a few criticims at this movie, I'd say Janns relationship with his girlfriend Audrey could have been fleshed out a bit more.
The film doesn't give her a whole lot of involvement in key events or really do anything particularly interesting with her character and overall I think they either should have beefed up her role to make her more of an emotional Counterpoint for Jann to bounce off or taking her role out of the script altogether and yeah, as I hinted at before the product placement gets a bit over the top times we get it Sony you're really pleased with this game, so you don't have to hammer at home every two minutes.
The movie so clocks in at well over two hours which feels a bit protracted for what it actually delivers. I mean I was never bored or anything, but I was definitely ready for that final race to roll around. Overallthough I have to say I really enjoyed Gran Turismo, it's a movie that falls neatly into the category of simple unpretentious uncomplicated entertainment that I've come to appreciate more and more in recent years not trying to blaze any particular new trails but happy to walk down well-established ones with confidence and purpose.
Coming out of the tail end of the summer movie season I've got no idea whether it's going to find much success at the box office, but honestly, if I need a break from Barbenheimer Mania then you could definitely do a lot worse than this little gem.