'Gran Turismo' Review: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour & Orlando Bloom Need To Take A Lap
It's not a video game phase, dad, it's a very advanced simulator phase. There's a huge difference. Loosely based on the racing simulation video game franchise of the same name, sports drama Gran Turismo is possibly easier to approach whether or not you'd call yourself a gamer when it's described more as a biopic than anything else. Archie Madekwe portrays Jann Mardenborough, a young Gran Turismo player from Wales who after winning a virtual race gets a chance to compete at a real-life Nissan racing academy and becomes a proper professional driver. At the academy and later when starting his pro career, he's being pushed by Nissan's marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) and demanding team leader Jack Salter (David Harbour) who becomes Jann's mentor.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Gran Turismo itself is a movie with straightened twists and turns, except for one hard left turn in the middle, that is somewhat struggling with the elevation shifts of the track that it's following. Madekwe centres this story of a teenager following his dreams and passion with convincing earnestness which helps the film find some real pathos when you see Jann's growth despite a tragic accident or him feeling detached from his family. Sadly the character work just can't hold your attention for two hours when all of the edges have been smoothened from every single character, resulting in bland and unpredictable archetypes and arcs. Madekwe and Harbour inject some of their own charm occasionally and Djimon Hounsou (as Jann's dad Steve) comes in to absolutely obliterate one important scene but those moments are slightly too few and far between.
With such unimaginative personalities for our main players, writers Jason Hall and Zach Baylin aren't able to do much with their more literal text either as the script is pretty often aiming at the lowest common denominator. It seems to be a textbook version of a studio project where the increasing noise of several different voices eventually drowns out the things that could've made it stand out more. Though Blomkamp and his VFX team add some quirks, gaming and training sessions end up feeling rather dreary because of the dull writing, not to mention Jann's romantic developments with Audrey (Maeve Courtier-Lilley).
Where the noise isn't as unclear is in the sonic landscapes which kick into high gear whenever the movie is really at its best. Sound mixers are crafting a stimulating ride with roaring sounds of engines, tires and crowds while having fun with the soundtrack and score (by Lorne Balfe and Andrew Kawczynski), still managing to make the dialogue comprehensible in the process.
Thanks to the sound work and Blomkamp shifting focus from human interactions that he's having a hard time with to dynamic action—which combines drone footage, DoP Jacques Jouffret's closeups and assumably full CGI shots that reference the game—in which the director has a chance to deliver the thrills, the last 30 minutes at the Le Mans racetrack show the potential that Gran Turismo had all along. It's sometimes exciting but rarely captivating; predominantly just not reaching its full potential because it's determined to cut corners instead of trying to find its own racing line.
Smileys: Sound mixing
Frowneys: Characterisation, dialogue
Burn them up, adieu.