I was thoroughly intrigued by the trailer of “Gran Turismo”, even though I never played the Play Station simulator game and knew very little about it to start with. However, the very thought of taking a player of the simulator and putting that person in a real race car and having him race against the best in the world felt so incredibly unbelievable that I couldn’t help but wonder if the claims of the makers of the film were actually true or was it just a marketing gimmick. Surprisingly enough, not only was the story true, but the kid who made the transition from playing a video game to actually becoming a race car driver is doing all the stunts for his on-screen avatar in “Gran Turismo”.

Incredible true story at its core:

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the biggest novelty of “Gran Turismo” lies in its incredible true story, and director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) makes the most of the opportunity that the insane nature of the story provides him. He has at least one character in the film whose job it is to point out every now and then how utterly delusional the idea of letting gamers drive actual race cars is, and how impossible it was to pull off. He also makes it a point to show how deficient the gamers are in doing what was expected of them. Most importantly, he makes it a point to underline the fact that they will never be true racers as they just don’t have it in them to do what is required for such a mentally and physically demanding sport.

By doing this, Blomkamp is not only able to stack immense odds against the protagonist in the film but also ensures that the viewers are on the same page with what can be taken as a sensible perspective on the whole idea. Blomkamp goes into great detail about how the idea came to be and is smart enough to present it as one originating from the sales team at Nissan. Let us not forget that PEPSI once offered its consumers the opportunity to buy an actual Fighter Jet, hence the idea of a simulator player transitioning to the real arena might only appear as an idea lingering somewhere in the air. The subtle approach to the entire episode and keeping the story as close to the real events as possible helps to draw the audience into the narrative and keep them engaged by all that is shown happening to the protagonist and how the story progresses.

High stakes for key characters, dramatic narrative

The stakes for the protagonist are unimaginably high. He knows nothing but simulator racing, and while he wants to become a real race car driver, he doesn’t know how he could make the transition. He belongs to a family that doesn’t have the resources to pay for the incredibly high price that comes with choosing such a profession. If that was not enough, his father doesn’t understand what he is actually interested in doing with his life and feels that he is wasting his life away. Hence, there is a lot of friction between father and son which further increases the stakes for the protagonist. 

Blomkamp is smart enough to understand that the stakes need to be high not only for the protagonist but also for the other key members of the cast. The idea for the entire event comes from a spirited sales executive played by Orlando Bloom, who is now under immense pressure to not only ensure that the amateur racers leave their mark on the sport to boost sales of Nissan cars but also to ensure that none of them die or cause any serious damage due to their inefficiency in driving or any other aspect of the sport. A time comes when other professional drivers team up to go against the idea of having simulator drivers compete with them, and it appears that the executive’s idea has backfired. These elements are wonderfully used by Blomkamp to enhance the tension of the film and bring it closer to reality and filling the narrative with effective drama. 

David Harbour plays Jack Salter, a hardened racer who has been down on luck and believes the idea to be absolutely ridiculous. As the film progresses, we see a cynical man like him getting transformed into someone who believes in the protagonist and the idea. He feels that the protagonist is good enough to not only compete with the best but also win a race as tough as the Le Mans.

Efficiently executed action sequences:

While the races in the film are by no means as pulse-pounding and inspiring as in films like “Rush” or “Ford vs. Ferrari”, they are efficiently done. What propels the interest of the audience in the race is not just the action that is on display but the idea of a SIMS racer performing on a real race track. This lingering idea of such an implausible feat being pulled off by the young adults was always on my mind and it definitely elevated the action on display to a much greater level. There was enough drama in the action and just enough finesse and technicalities to keep the action interesting and prevent it from feeling repetitive. If that was not enough, the story has some interesting twists and turns to offer to its viewers that I’m not sure were true but did contribute to the storytelling and made the film a lot more interesting.

Madekwe’s stellar portrayal of the protagonist

Let’s be honest. A lot of the film’s impact depended on how Archie Madekwe portrayed the character of the protagonist, Jann. He had to be able to convey every emotion, turmoil, struggle, and tragedy of the character for the audience to resonate with both the character and the story. Blomkamp never took the campy, fun route with the story, nor did he adopt the action-oriented approach of films like “Fast and Furious”. This placed the drama and intrigue of the film in the hands of the actors, who had to build relationships with the audience, make them care for the characters, and then evoke a range of emotions from them throughout the film. Thankfully, Archie Madekwe is pitch-perfect as the protagonist and is able to sell the character completely. I could resonate with his acting, and his emotions felt very genuine. He never goes over the top and remains firmly rooted in the extent to which the character’s emotions allow him to venture. He is able to portray the character’s awkward side, as well as the surprise and disbelief at what life was bringing to him. All these factors combine to create an impact through the essay of Archie Madekwe and add much-needed credibility to the primary character of the film.

Great supporting cast:

Orlando Bloom as a charismatic sales executive who would stop at nothing to make his plan work, David Harbour as a cynical coach who learns to accept the magic in life that allows impossible feats to be achieved by unassuming individuals, and Djimon Hounsou as a stereotypical father who wants the best for his son but is unable to understand his heart’s desires, are all terrific in their portrayals. They are the ones who make each and every sequence they appear in worth watching.

Final words:

“Gran Turismo” is not your run-of-the-mill actioner where the story is only used as a reason to navigate between action set pieces. Here, the story, emotions, drama, turmoil, and struggle take centre stage, and the many race sequences work only as a release of the underlying drama or as a means to achieve one’s worth in life. The performances elevate the film higher than a film of this nature generally aspires for. The incredible true story is the biggest shocker and looms large throughout the film. Archie Madekwe as the protagonist does a great job of being relatable and impactful in his portrayal. Blomkamp’s astute direction is on display, and he surprised me by making a film of this nature that is so far from what he usually enjoys making. If you are ready to let the characters’ dynamics engulf you and aren’t disappointed by realistic race sequences that stay true to the real deal and offer little out-of-the-world histrionics and drama, “Gran Turismo” will definitely impress you.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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