Jul 22, 2023

"Gran Turismo" Is All Revved Up with Nowhere to Go (Movie Review)

Neil Blomkamp’s adaptation of the PlayStation video game Gran Turismo is a fascinating movie that attempts to thread the needle of serving as a sports drama, a video game adaptation, a feature-length commercial for brands like PlayStation and Nissan, and a Neil Blomkamp film. The resulting film is a mish-mash of different parts—Frankenstein-ed together into something resembling many other films you’ve seen before.

Utilizing a mixture of Don Simpson’s classic 80s “high concept” formula (ala Flashdance or Top Gun) and the tried-and-true methodology of semi-factual sports underdog stories (ala Rocky or The Karate Kid), Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story (yes, that is actually its full title) has less in common with its fellow video game adaptation films than it does with films like Karate Kid or Top Gun. These are well-worn formulas that even the most casual of moviegoers is most certainly familiar with on some subconscious level, making their usage here feel at least unique, several decades removed from their blockbusting primes.

The downside to this structure is that it makes Gran Turismo endlessly predictable. The aforementioned structural examples that have stood the test of time are those whose filmmaking craft was so exemplary that when paired with the story’s simplicity, it made for a timeless cinematic tale. Rocky does not remain a relevant and incendiary film because its story is groundbreaking but because of the heart and soul poured into the film by director Avildsen and screenwriter/actor Sylvester Stallone.

Sadly, while Gran Turismo‘s filmmaking craft is occasionally fascinating, it does not ever even begin to rise to such heights.

If you take a shot every time Gran Turismo‘s soundtrack cues up a needle drop of a song, only to then reveal said song is actually being listened to by a character within the film, diegetically—by hard-cutting to muffled audio from outside said character’s perspective—you’ll be intoxicated by the film’s midpoint. It’s an oddity, but something that is repeated so often within the film that it becomes one of the core identifying motifs within Gran Turismo. These musical choices are completely fine on their own and solid songs, but they feel so haphazard within the larger context of the work that the film’s constant spotlighting of them feels dissonant.

By the film’s end credits, Gran Turismo is bragging about its authenticity in terms of its music choices, touting that several of these songs are Jann’s real-life musical favorites. However, the film fails to ever meaningfully integrate these songs into the story itself or give the audience a reason to care about their inclusion, making them come off as little more than Easter Eggs. This obfuscating prominence detracts from the story.

Video games and film are exceedingly different mediums. What works in one does not necessarily work in the other, and vice versa. Yet Gran Turismo opts to have so many of its most crucial setpieces play out with the janky, obtrusive visual baggage layered over the top of its framing. It’s an interface pulled straight from the video games, but it feels entirely out of place in the film.

This becomes even more groan-inducing as the film resorts to using these components as its form of lazy visual shorthand. Gran Turismo utilizes video game-esque graphics to communicate key information about the story, such as how Jann is placed in a race or even where he is on the track. In a film where all of the primary tension and suspense should come from allowing the audience to clearly and cohesively follow Jann’s struggle to win a race, Gran Turismo circumnavigates this altogether and instead brings the forward-momentum of the film jerking to a halt several dozen times, literally pausing the movie to show on-screen text communicating what the film has failed to communicate.

This results in sequences that feel much more ‘tell’ than ‘show,’ with Gran Turismo utilizing these shortcuts as filmic cheat codes that ultimately cheat the audience out of an authentically affecting cinematic experience.

Neil Blomkamp does not make films like Gran Turismo. Since his breakthrough debut, District 9, Blomkamp has exclusively made action-oriented science-fiction films (like Elysium, Chappie, or his Oats Studios short films) until now, with Gran Turismo. And if you think a straight-forward racing movie sounds pretty far removed from that established wheelhouse, you’d be right. There are several moments where Blomkamp’s direction here feels entirely scattershot, focusing in on unique visual ideas that don’t service the film or the story as a whole and instead give enormous visual weight to things that should not be getting such treatment.

But when it works, it works. At its best, Blomkamp’s esoteric visual explorations are paired with fast cutting that can and occasionally does provide a genuine kinetic energy to the proceedings. The results across the film as a whole are distinctly mixed, but Blomkamp is doing interesting work.

If anything, it’s all (as strange as it sounds) highly reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s work on Man of Steel. Both Snyder in 2013 and Blomkamp in 2023 found themselves coming off of some less-than-well-received work and attempting to deliver a fairly straight-up-the-middle crowd-pleasing blockbuster success to regain commercial favor. Like Snyder, though, Blomkamp’s interests veer wildly off-course, as his idiosyncrasies bleed through in spades and ultimately pull focus from the central story. Like Man of Steel, the result isn’t always effective as a film, but it is constantly fascinating.

There are three patriarchs to Gran Turismo‘s story: Orlando Bloom (the father of the Gran Turismo Nissan project), Djimon Hounsou (Jann’s actual father), and David Harbour (Jann’s racing coach).

On paper, there’s nothing special about any of these characters: the vaguely antagonistic businessman, the disapproving father who keeps telling his son to get his head out of the clouds, and the coach who sees himself in his young apprentice. You’ve undoubtedly seen each of these archetypes in dozens of other, better films. But what makes these characters unique in Gran Turismo are the performances of their respective actors.

Both Hounsou and Harbour bring much-needed gravitas and pathos to their roles, with each of them getting key emotional beats that feel like some of the film’s strongest moments. Each of their relationships with Jann (as played by Archie Madekwe) feels meaningful and is full of chemistry between the actors.

And Bloom? Goodness gracious, you have never seen Orlando Bloom quite like this. He’s so smarmy, so greasy that it practically bleeds off the screen in the bluntest and broadest performance of the film. On paper, the role does not ask for very much aside from a few occasional minute reaction shots. But in execution, every second Bloom is onscreen, he’s putting his entire body into overtly emoting these rote beats of disappointment and/or concern, and it results in entertainment of the highest degree, intentional or not.


Overall, Gran Turismo is an interesting watch more than it is a satisfactory one. In trying to be so many different things simultaneously and appease so many different quadrants, it feels as though the ultimate film is made for no one.

The Gran Turismo brand is a double-edged sword, and I fear that the film is neither video game-esque enough to lure in the plethora of hardcore gaming fans, nor divorced from its video game elements enough to seem appealing to general audiences who may be unfamiliar with the franchise. Essentially, Gran Turismo is a car that’s all revved up with nowhere to go.

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IMG via Sony PicturesGran Turismo5. A Vintage StructureGran Turismo: Based on a True Story4. Music Gags3. Cheat Codes2. Blomkamp’s DirectionGran TurismoDistrict 9ElysiumChappieOats StudiosGran TurismoMan of SteelMan of Steel1. Father Figures RATING