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‘Gran Turismo’ Review: An Unexpected Thrill Ride

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This writer is flummoxed. Flabbergasted even. When the summer first began, there were numerous films with great potential ahead of us. However, many were disappointing, bringing in low revenue and substandard critical reception. For instance, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny failed to meet expectations. However, Gran Turismo is the diamond in the 2023 rough, and it’s a pleasant surprise by Neill Blomkamp. The filmmaker has been struggling to create quality films since District 9. That being said…

There is no other way to say it but “Great Googly Moogly!” Gran Turismo is good. And not in the sense of passable; it’s a genuinely thrilling film. Blomkamp might have made one of the best blockbusters of the summer. And even as the words are being typed on the screen, it’s a baffling thought that a Gran Turismo movie snuck up on everyone like this.

The plot of Gran Turismo

Advertised as “based on a true story,” the film begins with Danny Moore (played by Orlando Bloom and based on Darren Cox) pitching an incredibly ludicrous marketing gimmick to higher-ups. He wishes to create awareness for the company by taking an expert player of Gran Turismo and making them into a real racer. The idea is met with skepticism. But soon after, Danny gets approval on the grounds that he hires the right people to ensure it all goes smoothly.

Danny seeks out Jack Salter (David Harbour), a retired racer, to help with his ambitious plan. Despite Danny’s insistence, Jack is hesitant about training a video gamer to drive a high-powered vehicle due to the potential dangers. Eventually, Jack agrees to help, with the condition they withdraw if the situation becomes too perilous. 

Our story finally begins with Jann Mardenborough, the main character – a well-adjusted kid and avid fan of Gran Turismo. He spends most of his time playing the game and immerses himself completely in the experience. Jann loves the thrill of driving in Gran Turismo and praises the game’s realism. However, his father, Steve Mardenborough (played by Djimon Hounsou), is from a different generation and doesn’t understand video games. When Jann wins a contest with the GT Academy to become a racer, Steve is pessimistic and unsupportive of his son’s aspirations.

David Harbour and Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo
David Harbour as Jack Salter and Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in Gran Turismo (Sony)

The film then gear shifts into the GT Academy and Jann’s race to be chosen as the Nissan driver. And while the story beats are familiar in execution, Gran Turismo takes a right turn into crowd-pleasing mayhem.

Sony’s response to Top Gun: Maverick

Although Gran Turismo has strengths, it also has drawbacks. The movie seems to be a direct response to Top Gun: Maverick, with the academy selecting an unconventional pilot and showing a training montage that lasts around 30 minutes until the main character is chosen. Additionally, the film includes a moment similar to the “Goose” scene from Top Gun. Furthermore, Darren Barnet (known for his role in Never Have I Ever) portrays Matty, who serves as a rival (or Iceman) to Jann’s (Maverick) character.

Similar to Tetris, Gran Turismo also takes creative liberties with its real-life events. While some incidents occurred, they were not depicted as dramatically or in the same sequence as in the movie. However, it’s important to remember that Hollywood often romanticizes the truth for the sake of entertainment.

Compelling race sequences

There have been critiques aimed at the race sequences in Gran Turismo; honestly, this writer disagrees with them. Various moments will have audiences gripping their seats from the adrenaline-inducing nature of the race. Additionally, Jann is not accustomed to the high-pressure racing environment, which adds to the excitement. Therefore, Blomkamp’s frantic filming style is a positive aspect of the film and adds to the excitement of the sequences.

Additionally, when Days of Thunder came out years ago, camera drones were unavailable. Some of the race car action utilizes drone aerial shots to significant impact as we watch the mayhem around the track. The race sequences are exhilarating, and it’s one of the few experiences in recent memory where the theater cheered with the film. The fact is making a movie about racing is not as simple as it seems. There is a reason why Sylvester Stallone could not make it work with 2001’s DrivenBlomkamp nails it.

The characters win first place

If it weren’t for its well-crafted character development, Gran Turismo would have been a disaster. The movie’s heart lies in the endearing mentorship between Jann and Jack. As the story unfolds, we witness Jack gradually warming up to the talented and ambitious young racer.

The script, co-written by Jason HallNeill Blomkamp, and Zach Baylin, cleverly incorporates moments of humor and emotional depth, effectively drawing the audience into their dynamic relationship. It is easy to sense the feeling in moments like an ongoing joke about Kenny G in the film that eventually turns wholesome.

Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in Gran Turismo (Sony)
Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in Gran Turismo (Sony)

Archie Madekwe, as Jann, will undoubtedly be a star after this movie. He portrays Jann with immense charisma and relatable naivety, making him the lovable kid next door who won’t stop talking about the latest X-Box release. However, when he’s unleashed into a 200 mph race car, we all become concerned for his safety. 

David Harbour perfectly embodies a fatherly figure in his role, playing to his strengths. Unlike his role in Stranger Things, he’s not overbearing but rather like a coach who is very protective of his student. Between the performances and writing, Jann and Jack are the heart of this movie. Because we care about them, Gran Turismo defies its formulaic setbacks. 

Gran Turismo is a surprising thrill ride

Admittingly, the expectations were meager when this reviewer entered the film. During the first act, there was a sense that Gran Turismo might be disposable fun, for example, background movies to watch while making dinner. By the third act, Blomkamp made this writer a believer.

Gran Turismo is a surprising thrill ride that checks all the boxes. It might follow a familiar structure, but between the racing action, and Madekwe and Harbour’s chemistry, this film flies higher than expected. 

Pre-game with the soothing sounds of Enya, grab some popcorn and let the experience take the wheel. 

My rating for this film

★★★/ ♥♥♥♥

Gran Turismo hits theaters on August 25, 2023! Are you going to check it out? Let us know on social media or The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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