When gamers become real racing drivers, it initially sounds like the idea of a typical game adaptation. But first is GRAN TURISMO not a game, but a simulation. And secondly, what Neill Bloomkamp’s latest directorial work tells is not fiction, but actually happened.
OT: Gran Turismo (USA/JPN 2023)
That’s what it’s about
His father Steve (Djimon Hounsou) would definitely have wanted something different from him, something secure for the future. But now the gifted one is sitting Gran TurismoPlayer Jann (Archie Madekwe) behind the wheel of his console and has earned a place at the Gran Turismo Academy. The racing driver development program aims to train GT athletes to become real athletes. And Jann finally sees the chance to prove it to those around him. But simply being able to “drive well” is not enough. Together with his trainer and mentor Jack (David Harbour), he not only gets to know the vehicles inside and out, but also how racing really works in reality…
If the current huge success of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” one critical questioning is whether the narrative element of consumer and product criticism can be reconciled with the fact that the doll manufacturer Mattel itself is one of the project’s main financiers. Because no matter how aggressively the Barbie brand is handled – at least in some ways – in the end a significant proportion of the revenue, especially for merchandise and the like, goes back to Mattel; Which means that “Barbie” is inevitably a bit like that promotional film must be considered. A very similar train of thought also comes into play when looking at “Gran Turismo”. And that in two respects! The true story of an academy in which the world’s best “Gran Turismo” players are trained to become real racing drivers and are then allowed to take part in real competitions is based on the cooperation of two major brands. In addition to Sony PlayStation (of course the film itself is also published by Sony Pictures), Nissan is the equally important second partner in this youth development and casting program. The result: “Gran Turismo” is not just an extremely advantageous presentation of the game, sorry: the simulation. Every now and then you imagine yourself in a no less advantageously staged car brand image film; and a Sony Erickson MP3 player also gets its moment. In the end, it’s like “Barbie”: Neither this film nor “Gran Turismo” can escape the aftertaste of an overly long commercial. But both films simply wouldn’t exist without the products on which they are based…
Jack Salter (David Harbour) was once an athlete himself. Today he trains the next generation of racing drivers.
The potential behind the GT Academy, which actually existed from 2008 to 2016, to be able to tell hero and rising star stories has not remained hidden from Sony until 2023. There were already plans for a film adaptation in 2013, for which director Joseph Kosinski was even discussed at times. There were four years between the last plans with him and the start of filming in 2022 – from then on with Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) steering. Apart from a noticeable feel in the action scenes, “Gran Turismo” only has trace elements of his handwriting (if it could even be attested to have one after films like “Chappie” or “Demonic”). The film is much more reminiscent of the global success with which Blomkamp’s predecessor Kosinski set records in 2022: “Top Gun: Maverick”. Both rely on almost identical narrative and staging mechanisms. Present a rising and winning story, with a good dose of pathos. The story beats with theirs Oops and Downs follow familiar paths. And in seconds of doubt, the right words from the right person are enough to give your all again in the crucial moments. And as a team. Not as a solo artist. The only huge difference: While “Top Gun: Maverick” constantly looks in the nostalgic rearview mirror during its two hours, “Gran Turismo” looks stubbornly straight ahead – and meets an audience the same age as the main character at eye level, while Tom Cruise and Co. mainly at the “Top Gun Generation” ingratiated.
“While ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was constantly looking in the nostalgic rearview mirror during its two hours, ‘Gran Turismo’ looks stubbornly straight ahead – and meets an audience the same age as the main character at eye level.”
“Gran Turismo” is not just a classic hero story, but also an athlete biopic. So you don’t even have to have seen “Top Gun” films to be able to roughly imagine the course of the 125-minute racing epic. It’s enough to have seen any sports drama from the last 20 years. At the content level, Jason Hall serves (“American Sniper”)Zach Baylin (“Creed III: Rocky’s Legacy”) and Alex Tse (“Watchman: The Guardians”) with their script for “Gran Turismo” a tried and tested structure: rise – fall – rise again. But the life of the racing driver Jann Mardenborough portrayed here sets the rhythm. And so plot stations such as an accident that is extremely useful from a dramaturgical point of view may, at first glance, be due to the narrative formula. Most of them actually existed. “Gran Turismo” works more through its form than through its content. Because no matter how hackneyed the buttons pressed here may be, in the end what is shown has the necessary emotional input to give its audience a two-hour racing frenzy. Starting with the choice of the protagonist. Archie Madekwe (“Midsommar”) embodies the passionate GT gamer Jann Mardenborough as appropriately reserved Nerd, whose awkward shyness, coupled with a good deal of ambition, is believable and never whimsical. His character is far from a caricature, is fundamentally likeable and therefore proves to be an ideal figure to identify with from the start. At most, his father is critical of his skills on the console; and this too simply follows the understandable motivation to unite for one’s offspring right (ergo: safe) career. The father-son conflict surrounding Jann’s future is not without platitudes. Nevertheless, we experience Jann’s hero’s journey in “Gran Turismo” from sone Perspective – and from that of a 20-year-old – are behind the well-known ones “Think about your future!”– Parents’ announcements are often little more than that: platitudes.
Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) must represent Nissan’s wishes. The drivers’ concerns sometimes take a back seat…
“Gran Turismo” doesn’t dwell on the father-son conflict for too long anyway. In the first half hour, the film rushes from the Mardenboroughs’ parents’ house across the virtual GT qualification racetrack right into the training at the Academy; Competitive friction, performance appeals from skeptical supervisors and many, many training montages included. At the center: “Violent Night” Santa Claus David Harbour, who, as a former athlete and now trainer, is extremely skeptical about the idea of a “gamers become racers” program. Nevertheless, he quickly recognizes Jann’s potential and gradually builds a bond with him. A passionately presented mentor-student relationship emerges through which “Gran Turismo” generates a large part of its emotions – and also a little (self-)irony. Only the later moments between Jann and his father (who of course was still convinced by him at some point) can keep up emotionally. With grand gestures, precisely placed expressions of love, energetic ones “Believe in yourself!”-speeches and, last but not least, the calculated sounds of Lorne Balfe (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) and Andrew Kawczynski (“Dune”) “Gran Turismo” develops into a perfectly choreographed rush of emotions that is very easy to understand…
“‘Gran Turismo’ has the typical ‘Hurrah, we’ll show everyone!’ mentality of a rising star/sports/hero story, but it’s the friction between this and reality that ultimately creates the most exciting moments in the film.”
… and which still works so well (or, let’s be honest: precisely because of that!). Nevertheless, even a “Gran Turismo” contains moments that go against the expectations of the audience, at least for a short time. Here comes the suspected one “Now he’s getting back to his old strength!”-Scene doesn’t happen when you expect it, but is instead slowed down by the sounds of a melancholic indie ballad. The budding relationship between Jann and his big crush never becomes the focus of conflict and towards the end the GT Academy proves to be a successful team project. “Gran Turismo” could have shown more of the other participants and later team members… So the film focuses primarily on Jann Mardenborough’s career and maturation process – not only as a driver, but also in terms of media presence and self-confidence. An elated Orlando Bloom (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) represents the latter aspect as Nissan marketing manager Danny Moore. His perspective on the events adds a surprisingly rational level to the film’s events. After all, the GT Academy is primarily intended to be a promotional event for the car company, which not only wants to be represented properly, but also wants to remain free of scandals. “Gran Turismo” has the typical one “Hooray, we’ll show everyone!”-Mentality of a rising star/sport/hero story, but it is precisely the friction between this and reality that ultimately creates the most exciting moments in the film.
In the end, racing driver skills decide between victory and defeat.
And then there is the action. Anyone who knows the advantages of the “Gran Turismo” series, which focuses on realism and attention to detail, should also have this claim on the film. In order to do justice to this, Neill Blomkamp and his cameraman Jacques Jouffret do without (“Boston”) to excessive maneuvers. Many scenes could also be duels filmed one-on-one from real races. The creators also forego any annoyances such as the direct comparison between real and console racing. The rank of the respective participants on the route is only shown every now and then for overview purposes; just like you know from simulation. The team only gave a handful of unexpected events a more elaborate production. As a result, the cars bursting into flames or rolling over shake you to the core. Where horror films occasionally rely on violence, “Gran Turismo” takes its place Accident peaks. Not to feast on the accident itself, but to use it to increase the pressure and mental burden on the protagonists. In the end, you’re not happy for Nissan or the game, but primarily for Jann Mardenborough.
Conclusion: Well-known patterns in a modern guise: “Gran Turismo” relies on Hollywood heroism, presented according to tried-and-tested biopic schemes, but without the strenuous nostalgia factor. Director Neill Blomkamp pushes the buttons for success so skillfully that the rush of the racetrack unfolds its full appeal. A fundamentally likeable mentor-student duo, elegant action choreographies and small adjustment screws that Bloomkamp turns sometimes faster, sometimes slower than expected, make the end result no less entertaining than last year’s film like “Top Gun: Maverick” or numerous ones before it other hero stories were.
“Gran Turismo” can be seen in USA cinemas from August 10, 2023.