Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo (2023)

‘Gran Turismo’ movie review: this true story inspired by the game is an exhilarating ride

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A gamer makes the transition from arcade racers to real-world race tracks in Gran Turismo, which opens in Prague cinemas this weekend before rolling out wide in the United States on August 25. Despite the PlayStation Productions logo that opens the film, this captivating ride is not an adaptation of the popular racing game (or racing simulator, as creator Kazunori Yamauchi would prefer) but an engrossing true story in which Gran Turismo plays a pivotal role.

If you’re not familiar with the story of British racer Jann Mardenborough, you’re in for a treat: Gran Turismo is a better film than one could reasonably expect from a movie that shares its title with a video game franchise, and ranks alongside Rush and Ford v Ferrari among the best modern racing movies. Let’s see if Michael Mann’s Ferrari can keep up the pace later this year.

Gran Turismo stars Archie Madekwe as Mardenborough, who opens the film as a Cardiff teenager and disaffected son of a former footballer (Djimon Hounsou). While brother Cody (Daniel Puig) is out on the field making dad proud, Jann is up in his room or in the arcade putting hundreds of hours into Gran Turismo behind a simulated racing wheel.

In Tokyo, Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) has a wild idea. To attract young gamers to the lucrative real-world automotive industry, he approaches Gran Turismo execs (Takehiro Hira plays Yamauchi) to create the GT Academy: a competition that will train the best virtual racers worldwide to compete on real-world racetracks.

Mardenborough just happens to be one of the top Gran Turismo players in the United Kingdom, and gets an online invite to compete in an in-game race for a spot at the new Academy. After winning, he’s off to train in real vehicles with head mechanic and former driver Jack Salter (David Harbour) and compete with nine other drivers for a chance to sign on with Nissan and become a professional racer.

Salter also doesn’t believe in Moore’s concept or his young talent, but Jann eventually proves himself and finds a supportive father figure who trains him through an early career. The bond formed by the two characters helps drive the film through early career ups and downs and an enthralling climactic 24-hour race at Le Mans in which the Gran Turismo gamers get the chance to prove themselves in the real world.

Gran Turismo was (perhaps surprisingly) directed by Neill Blomkamp, known for stretching budgets to create eye-popping science fiction features like District 9, Elysium, and Chappie; his previous film, the pandemic-shot VR experiment Demonic, opened to a less-enthusiastic reception.

Blomkamp gives Gran Turismo the same kind of guerrilla filmmaking treatment, and makes the most of what appear to be limited resources. Cinematography from Jacques Jouffret (The Purge) has an unusually crisp digital feel, and colors are muted throughout; the result resembles not so much a Hollywood blockbuster but a live race captured for TV, and the film is all the more engaging because of it.

Digital effects (supervised by Prague-based Viktor Müller and his studio UPP) are seamlessly integrated throughout, and include horrifying real-world crashes alongside some gaming-based parallels including an on-the-go visual deconstruction of a car, and position markers that track our hero and help us keep up with the race.

Many of the real-world events of Gran Turismo have been adapted for the screen by screenwriters Zach Baylin (The Crow) and Jason Hall (American Sniper); a devastating crash at Nürburgring Nordschleife actually occurred years after the climactic Le Mans race, and many side characters have been invented for the movie (Josha Stradowski is especially villainous as rival driver Nicolas Capa).

But the spirit is clearly there, and Gran Turismo plays out in the best tradition of sports movies: of the underdog who has to fight just to be taken seriously, and the relentless determination that drives him every step of the way. Don’t let the title scare you off: it’s an unloved genre, but Gran Turismo is easily the best video game movie ever made.

Gran Turismo

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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