Rob Reviews "Gran Turismo"
The Last Starfighter is one of my favorite movies. As a kid, I thought a lot about being recognized for my skills at a game that would open a door to a much larger world whether it was as a spy, adventurer, or even a space pilot given a secret mission with high stakes that only I could pull off. Now that I am man of a certain age, there were apparently a lot of people like me back then with stories of military recruiting done through video games and the dominance in our society of e-sports making millionaires of people of all ages. In the case of Gran Turismo, it even got people a chance to live out their dreams on the racecourse.
Based on true events, Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) pitches an idea to the Nissan Corporation to sponsor the GT Academy, where the best simulation racers in the world playing the PlayStation racing game in the title of the film come together for the chance to use their skills in the real world. Nissan only agrees with the condition that there is a professional engineer he partners with to do their best to ensure the safety of the gamers. Moore enlists Jack Salter (David Harbour), a former driver himself that barely holds on to the sport as a mechanic. Enter Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe, whose stunt double was Mardenborough himself), a young man that spends more time playing the game than just about anything else with a disapproving father (Djimon Hounsou), a supportive mother (Ginger Spice herself, Geri Horner), and a promising athlete of a brother (Daniel Puig). Jann faces not only the challenge of some of the best gamers in the world but also the disapproval of others on the racing circuit who see him as a threat to the safety and legitimacy of the sport.
Finding out that this film was directed by Neil Blomkamp made me scratch my head a bit, but I was still willing to give it a shot based on what I had already seen and the principle that it is OK for everyone to stretch their wings a bit from time to time. What I found was pleasantly surprising, giving 2023 another video game franchise brought to the big screen in a way that works. Sure, this is based on true events (for those of you getting ideas, the GT Academies were shut down in 2016), but it does its job with the game as the catalyst in the right way by recognizing the difference between the game and reality but also using elements from the game itself in the racing sequences that the naked eye would not necessarily catch but also not be confused by.
Visual effects are something that Blomkamp is kind of known for from films like District9, Elysium, and Chappie, so there was a level of expectation there that does not disappoint. The action sequences are high-octane (pun intended) to the point where I found myself trying to catch my breath more than once as the races progressed and the stakes got higher and higher. Madekwe portrays Jann well as a kid who feels like he knows what he wants while not quite being sure if he is truly prepared for it alongside Harbour as the mentor that starts out knowing this will never work but tears down those walls the more Jann grows and shows that he really wants this. In between the action, there is a great story of perseverance that propels things forward in a way that really made me care for the characters and invest in their success, even though I pretty much knew how this was going to go.
I am not quite sure why the release date got pushed back on Gran Turismo, but I am kind of glad it did. Maybe it was to get some breathing room away from the juggernauts that were Barbie and Oppenheimer or perhaps it was to get closer to the Labor Day weekend when racing works towards the close of the season, but either way this film places itself in a place where it can succeed to close out the Summer Movie Season. Even though I think it would be cool to watch in my living room with the sound system up high, this might also be a repeat viewing for me in a theatrical premium format for the sound editing alone. Check it out!