Movies based on video games are usually attempts to convert the world of the game in question into a narrative that is satisfying to watch as a movie. This is almost invariably less enjoyable than playing the game, where the narrative is of secondary importance to how much fun you’re having twiddling the thumbsticks. Neill Blomkamp‘s Gran Turismo takes a completely different route and tells a true story that occurred involving a game, and so it skips the usual comparison problem entirely.
Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) is a young man on the path to being a bit of a dropout to the disapproval of his father (Djimon Hounsou), who is enlisted by the GT Academy program to convert his exceptional skill at the game Gran Turismo into a real-life racing career. Coached by Jack Salter (David Harbour), he makes some astonishing progress and enters the international racing scene.
Reading the premise, and watching the film without checking its veracity, it’s easy to write off Gran Turismo as a preposterously-premised, formulaic underdog sports film. But then you see the real Mardenborough himself at the end, realise it’s actually true and you realise the story was simply too good not to tell. So how has Blomkamp pulled it off here? The answer is “by a nose”.
Madekwe delivers a performance that is often extremely convincing but occasionally mistakes sullenness for awkwardness, and David Harbour‘s heartfelt naturalness is so good that he feels like he’s from a different film at times. The racing scenes are, as you’d expect from Blomkamp, visually arresting. The script, sadly, is the weak point. The dialogue feels like a first draft of an outline, where everything is barely-disguised exposition. There is also a nagging feeling that quite a few cringe-inducing lines and scenes were included at the behest of the studio to promote the game itself since after the selection process it’s all about real-life racing.
Ironically, the saving grace here is that the film is so formulaic that, with its competent actors and crew, it follows its beats without any fuss and you get a satisfying story of personal triumph against insane odds. And then you get to go home and read about it and drop your jaw.
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