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Gran Turismo (2023)—An Emotional and Adrenaline-Rushing Ride

Gran Turismo movie poster

It’s that time again, folks! Time that I do another video game adaptation! Only this time, it’s not really a video game adaptation rather a biopic. More specifically, a biopic about a video game that inspired a young man into becoming a staple of motorsports. And what movie does that happen to be? Why it’s time for 2023’s Gran Turismo! So buckle in folks as we dive into the world of racing!

Jann Mardenborough (played by Archie Madekwe) is a young gamer who is a Gran Turismo whiz, with a steep goal of becoming a professional race car driver. One day, he is given the chance to compete in a Gran Turismo tournament where the winners will be given training and a chance to become real race car drivers. Upon winning, he joins the Gran Turismo Academy run by marketing executive Danny Moore (played by Orlando Bloom) and former race car driver Jack Salter (played by David Harbour), where he’s put to the test physically and mentally. Despite qualifying for his FIA racing license, he soon learns that he still has a long way to go if he wants to stay in the world of professional motorsports.

Jann Mardenborough in 2023's Gran Turismo

Unlike most video game movies that either try too hard to follow the story of their source material and cram five games into a two hour long movie, or simply making up the plot however they like, Gran Turismo is based on a true story. Jann Mardenborough is an actual professional driver who credits most of his skill from the Gran Turismo game, a racing simulation that’s described to be so accurate, it actually makes you feel like you’re racing. And what better way does the movie do this than to actually transition seamlessly between Jann sitting at home playing the game to Jann actually racing. I loved the way the car forms around him piece by piece as we the audience see him immersed in either the game or on the track. To Jann, Gran Turismo is not just a game: it is a way of life. And that passion for playing a video game about racing cars eventually leads him to his career of becoming a professional race car driver.

Speaking of Jann, Archie Madekwe plays him with a wide-eyed curiosity when he first enters the world of racing. To prepare for his role, Archie worked closely with the real Jann Mardenborough to not only better understand Mardenborough as a person, but to also get a closer feel of what the world of racing is actually like. Not only does he perfectly encapsulate the real Mardenborough’s mannerisms, he also captures his vulnerability, sensitivity, uncertainty and passion for racing. Additionally, David Harbour as Jack Salter is nothing short of motivational and caring. As a former race car driver who accidentally killed someone in his career, Jack understands the trials and tribulations that drivers face. As such, he initially comes across as a stern coach, who is out to prove that the students at the GT Academy didn’t have what it took to become real race car drivers. However, after seeing how dedicated Jann is to the sport, he slowly develops a fatherly bond with him, even opening up to him about the accident at Le Mans that prematurely ended his career after Jann undergoes a severe crash.

Jann Mardenborough and Jack Salter in 2023's Gran Turismo

When I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but compare it to Takeshi Koike’s Redline. Not only do both films surround the lives of race car drivers, but both feel the same cinematically. Similar to Redline, Gran Turismo has a way of slowing down the action right before a key moment. It even occasionally cuts away to something still or drowns out the sound before thrusting you back into the thick of the action. And nowhere is this shown better than the final race at Le Mans. Right before the race begins, the sound design is focused on Jann’s breathing and buckling up his seat belt right before we hear the alarm go off. Unlike many other movies about racing cars, such as Ford v. Ferrari and the first Cars movie, Gran Turismo makes you feel like you’re in the heat of the race. Hell, even the Fast and Furious movies failed at doing this! From seeing the inner workings of the cars and the excretion of exhaust, to hearing the roars of the engines, every shot during every race gets your heart pumping! Not even Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning came close to making me this excited.  

Gran Turismo is played out more as a sports movie, rather than a video game movie. I consider it closer to Rocky or The Karate Kid than Uncharted or Tekken. And as a sports movie, you know there must be a training montage or two. Unlike most other movies about racing cars, Gran Turismo goes into detail about the physical training that race car drivers have to undergo. Most folk don’t consider race car drivers as “real” athletes, since they’re behind the wheel driving a car. However, you’d be surprised at what a race car driver has to go through during each race. They need to have a strong grip to properly control their car, strong cores, powerful lower bodies and great stamina to be able to race for hours on end without rest. And that’s just scratching the surface. Driving a car at a professional level takes real guts and athletic prowess that is not for the faint of heart. And not to mention, that a single crash can permanently end the career or life of a racer. 

Gran Turismo 2023 race

But besides the cinematography and heartfelt storytelling, the soundtrack is also very unique, combining radio pop, dubstep, and even some trance into the mix. And while this may seem like a really odd combination, it actually adds emotional weight and tension to the film. The best example of this is during the first race in the GT Academy, when Jann faces off against Matty Davis, where the soundtrack combines elements of dubstep with trance as the race builds to its climax. And unlike 2008’s Speed Racer, the soundtrack that plays during the film’s climax and final race actually has an epic feel to it and further enhances the emotional aspect of the race, rather than detracting from it.

Gran Turismo was met with a box office reception of around $122 million worldwide on a budget of $60 million. While not a bad financial outing by any means, it did underperform compared to its competition, Blue Beetle. And to be honest, I’m not surprised since the latter is a DC Comics movie, which carries far more weight for most movie watchers. However, while Gran Turismo may have been a rather lukewarm film at the box office, it still is one of the most entertaining and heartfelt films I’ve seen in 2023. Does it match, say, Godzilla Minus One in terms of quality? Obviously not. But I still found myself re-watching it time and time again, which speaks volumes considering that I don’t usually give movies repeated viewings. If you’re in the mood for a heartfelt underdog story and fast-paced races, Gran Turismo may just be what you’re looking for!

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