“Gran Turismo” didn’t do well at the box office; probably bad marketing and a subpar poster. But it should have been a 2023 summer sleeper hit—it’s big, big fun. When word of mouth gets around, I predict this racing movie will grow legs, er, wheels, and join many families' movie collections.
Now, mind you, when I heard the premise, I scoffed. Some gamer kid who plays car games goes on to become a professional race car driver? Yeah, right. Oh wait—it’s a true story? Well, whaddya know?
And then, immediately, I scoffed some more: Well, yeah, okay, so car simulator games must be uncannily accurate—the skills must transpose easy. But let some li’l gamer dude try something where toughness, physicality, and athleticism are involved. Like, say, let some "SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs" gamer kid try and be an actual Navy SEAL.
And then I remembered: Ex-SEAL Rorke Denver has listed seven different archetypal categories of men who tend to be successful at becoming Navy SEALs:
1) Smurf SEAL
2) Rough-upbringing SEAL
3) Brawler SEAL
4) Proto SEAL
5) Legacy SEAL
6) Ivy League SEAL
7) Gamer SEAL
In 2005 and 2006, Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's Playstation 3, and Nintendo's Wii kicked off the modern age of high-definition gaming. I personally can’t stand the whole concept of gaming, but, per “Gran Turismo,” I’ve now come to see that the gaming phenomenon has become something to be reckoned with. It can clearly provide a person with the archetypal 10,000 hours of practice needed to master a skill set. And if an individual possesses the passion and the grit to endure beyond the simulator—they can be real contenders. Kind of amazing, really.
Kazunori Yamauchi, the game’s designer, spent many years working on perfecting the simulation’s looks and performances, using a wide selection of vehicles (most of which are licensed reproductions of real race cars) and also mapping out all the top, real-world racetracks. All of which combine to give gamers the detail-rich sensation that they’re doing the real thing.
"Gran Turismo” is about GT racing—circuit auto racing utilizing 2-seat cars with enclosed wheels (unlike Grand Prix racing's single-seat Formula 1 cars, that have exposed wheels).
But "Gran Turismo” is primarily about the true story of a motley crew of young male and female GT gamers who actually managed to transition from simulation driving to actual track racing, under the tutelage of talented trainer and former driver Jack Salter (David Harbour). Salter himself had bailed on his own racing dreams after an accident that he was involved in, early in his career, through no fault of his own, resulted in someone’s death.
Legolas Has a Dream
I will never be able to look at Orlando Bloom without seeing “The Lord of the Rings” archery-elf Legolas, but be that as it may, Mr. Bloom here plays motorsport executive Danny Moore. Moore enthusiastically pitches the idea of sponsoring a contest among the best simulator drivers in the world, for the chance to compete in a real race, to the Nissan car company.
The risks and liability must have seemed outrageous, but Nissan bought it as an innovative, long-term marketing scheme. They built an extensive and grueling racing academy that served to sift out the best of the best. Which makes it basically a race car driving “Top Gun.”
Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), an extremely talented gamer from a working-class family, whose only life goal was to become an actual driver despite his dad’s (Djimon Hounsou, playing a similar role to the one Dennis Quaid recently played in “The Hill”) virulent objections. Jann’s mom (former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell Horner) is more supportive of her boy, as moms tend to be.
Out of the Frying Pan and Onto the Track
Salter, having recently ditched his job as crew chief of the Capa team due to despising the owner’s spoiled-brat kid, Nicholas Capa (Josha Stradowski), who’s also the team’s driver, took this weird gig in order to finally be, more or less, his own man.
Salter basically plays the Cmdr. Mike Metcalf (aka “Viper”) “Top Gun” role, except that he doesn’t believe in the GT program and sees his job as trying his best to wash every last miserable wannabe-driver out of the program rather than to create winners. But also, after seeing some formidable talent begin to blossom in Jann, to protect the untried rookies from killing themselves.
After all, gamers tend to be out-of-shape pencil-necks. The whiplash from standing starts that generate 467 foot-pounds of torque, the near fighter-jet level g-force turns, and the fact that you can't hit "reset" in the wake of a fiery crash can almost guarantee that one of these kids is either going to be headed to the ER on a gurney or to the morgue in a body-bag. Which of course necessitates some "Rocky"-like getting-in-shape montages.
Jann’s start in real-world racing is not half bad—no one, especially the pit crews, expects him to even finish the race. He improves gradually, from race to race, and the excitement begins to build. Jann needs to become a top finisher in order to get his race car license, and he pulls it off.
However, there’s a major setback, à la the “Top Gun” Maverick-and-the-death-of-Goose scene, and Salter has to extol the virtues of immediately getting back in the driver’s seat, like Viper saying of Maverick, “Keep sending him up.”
“Gran Turismo” crescendos to the 24-hour race at Germany’s Nürburgring, where Jann and two other drivers from the academy are under massive pressure to win in order to keep the flagging interest of the Nissan sponsors in play. The Nürburgring ordeal is exhausting, rainy, slippery, dangerous, harrowing, and unbelievably thrilling to watch.
But wait, there’s an even bigger showdown! The Le Mans race in France, where Salter flamed out and ended his career.
Director Blomkamp packs the race scenes with so much tension that the audience hoots and claps when there’s a major tension resolution. He also shows us visually how Jann uses his 10,000 simulation training hours to ingeniously outmaneuver his opponents—especially archenemy Capa—by finding hidden lanes in race car traffic like a Walter Payton or a Gale Sayers navigating NFL defenses—nobody else can see them but him.
It must be said that the film unnecessarily sets up Capa as the villain, whereas the real villain here is death by inexperience. It works though; it’s good fun.
The film’s race sequences leave us buzzing with energy and a teeny bit exhausted, as they should. “GT” will be compared to “Days of Thunder” (another Tom Cruise, er, vehicle), and it is basically the same movie but with a less charismatic lead.
It doesn’t matter, though. The lead performance is that of a low-charisma-having, downtrodden, unformed, millennial boy striving to follow his bliss and get out from under his father’s iron-willed dominance. Win or lose (you'll have to watch it and find out which), the kid managed to get himself out of his bedroom and his mall job selling underwear and attempt something great. Very inspiring!
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Orlando Bloom, David Harbour, Archie Madekwe, Djimon Hounsou, Geri Horner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2023
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years’ experience as a New York professional actor, working in theater, commercials, and soap operas. He has a classical theater training and a BA in philosophy from Williams College. As a voice actor, he recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook, “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World.” Mark's professors suggested he become a professional writer. He became a professional actor instead. Now he writes professionally about acting. In the movies.