This week we are shifting gears (pun intended) as we get back into the racing world with a professional race car driver that…wait for it…. started out playing video games! There is a competition called GT Academy that ran for 8 years throughout the world. The film explains its creation better than I can, but essentially it started out as a marketing ploy to get people excited about Nissan cars. Their was/is a video game series called Gran Turismo that highlights as a real simulator for sports cars. You can design build, break down, and drive these cars. I can remember them from when I was a child but didn’t play them too much. However, the NASCAR game with the cheat code for paintballs to shoot the other to cars my friends and I played on repeat. When I saw this trailer, I worried it would be another poor attempt at taking a video game and turning it into a movie. I had no idea there was a real story behind it. So how would this stack up to other sports films?
Onto the film.
We open meeting a man named Danny Moore (Bloom) who works for Nissan and is pitching the crazy idea to host a competition for gamers who love and play Gran Turismo. He wanted to tap into a crowd of enthusiasts in my opinion to gain press attention and a new following for the Nissan line of vehicles. Surprisingly the executives agree to this, IF he can get a “crew chief” to sign off on it. I think I have the name of the person to approve this was but regardless, Moore (Bloom) eventually gets a man named Jack Salter (Harbour) to reluctantly agree. Salter was a
former driver now turned mechanic for the cars he’s going to teach the participants of the GT Academy to drive. Meanwhile, we meet our underdog of this film in Jan Mardenborough (Madekwe) who as you can guess LOVES the Gran Turismo games. He comments several times that he’s logged thousands of hours on those tracks in the game. His dream is to be a driver, from when his father Steve (Hounsou) took him to see cars when he was 5. The beginning of this film you see family drama as obviously, the father wants him to “get a real job” and there isn’t a lot of support from them. Jann is resilient and rushes to the tournament to hopefully gain entry to the GT Academy. The winner gets a spot. While he’s racing in the game, the film (which does this throughout) cuts from him in a chair, to the car he is “driving” appearing around him piece by piece. It’s a neat shot that I would imagine if you did a freeze frame was authentic for the items needed to build whatever car his was driving in the game. Cool little editing addition I didn’t expect.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away but I was thoroughly impressed. I spoke recently about how I know it’s a good film when I immediately want to rush home and read more about the real life events. I did it with Oppenheimer and again with this one.
Here’s what works:
The cast is wonderful. David Harbour as the coach/trainer Jack Salter is such a welcome addition in anything he does. I worried from the trailers he wouldn’t be in the film very much. I was wrong. He’s one of the leads and I loved it. Orlando Bloom who’s always great from Legolas in Lord of the Rings to Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s hope we see him more. Good stuff. Our main character Jann played by Archie Madekwe is someone you will immediately root for. If you don’t care or believe in your lead then the film usually falls flat, luckily we don’t have that here. Lastly, Jann’s family played by Djimon Hounsou and Geri Halliwell (Former Spice Girl) add heavy undertones of real love and hope and even failure. I also didn’t expect that from a movie based on a video game. Well done.
So is this a 5 star film? No, it’s close. At times, especially in the 3rd act it falls into the same cookie-cutter plot points we’ve seen before. I had hoped for something more outside the box. Also the villians are forgettable and could have added a real rivalry between our leads. I felt it was “bad guy 1” and “bad guy 2” the gold car, and the one with rainbows on it. That’s it. Doesn’t ruin it but it’s a little frustrating. If you like sport movies, run to the theater. If you like true stories, also run. Or drive! You can only see Barbie so many times!! 4 stars out of 5