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Gran Turismo ★★★



Director: Neill Blomkamp

Cast: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Djimon Honsou, Geri Halliwell

Release: 9th August 2023

The racing game franchise Gran Turismo has entertained gamers since 1997, with the most recent entry released in 2022. In 2011 Jann Mardenborough, a gamer, was given the opportunity to compete in the Gran Turismo academy and compete in professional motorsports for Nissan, subsequently finishing 3rd at Le Mans. The true story of Jann’s journey to becoming a professional racer forms the basis for the film Gran Turismo from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. This is arguably the best route for a film around the property rather than a straight-up video game adaptation, as we have recently seen from Sony with Uncharted and The Last of Us.

See, Midsommar’s Archie Madekwe is Jann as we see him go from gaming prodigy working in retail in Cardiff to competing in the big leagues at some of the world’s most famous racecourses. It is a surprising and odd mix of the cast, with David Harbour as Jack Salter, a former racer and mechanic who trains Jann. Orlando Bloom is Danny Moore, a Nissan Marketing exec who formulates plans to have gamers compete in Motorsports. Djimon Hounsou and Geri Halliwell round out the main cast as Jann’s parents.

From a performance standpoint, Harbour is laps ahead of the rest of the cast, giving Jack a fully formed arc and making his relationship with Jann integral to what works best about the film. Every moment he is on screen is worth watching as we get a palpable sense of regret about his failed racing career and not wanting Jann to make the same mistakes. It is a shame that the rest of the cast feel they are from a different film altogether. Geri Halliwell (married to Red Bull’s Christian Horner) is woefully miscast, and there is wasted potential from many, failing to move beyond cliché.

The racing sequences are likely what many will be coming to see and, for the most part, are enjoyable, interspersing the distinctive style of the games. While never reaching the heights of Rush or Le Mans 66, they are still lovely, and the changing style stops them from getting too repetitive. Lorne Balfe’s score keeps the sequences on track. We are treated to glimpses of many iconic ways from motorsports, including Silverstone, the Nürburgring and Le Mans.

The soundtrack has some fun gags around Jann’s choice of pre-race music (Enya and Kenny G). While Jack is more of a fan of Black Sabbath, we hear their iconic tracks Paranoid and War Pigs played prominently at several key moments.

There have been attempts to bring Gran Turismo to the big screen for over a decade. While Jann’s storyline makes for an engaging central conceit, it never quite captures audiences’ attention as it should, failing to overtake its competition. For a franchise as iconic as this, it is frustrating that there isn’t a more powerful engine driving the film, often falling into predictability, especially when Harbour isn’t on screen. If not a total disaster, this is far from the victory lap it could have been. Perhaps the most surprising facet of the film is the lack of flair from a director of Blomkamp’s reputation, with it having circled several high-profile directors previously.

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