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Film Review: Gran Turismo

FILM REVIEW
GRAN TURISMO
Rated PG-13
135 Minutes
Released August 25th

“I would say I’m obsessed with cars,” says Neil Blomkamp, director of the film Gran Turismo, which Is based on the true story of racecar video gamer Jann Mardenborough, who in 2013 became an actual race car champion whose team placed third in the storied 24 Hours of LeMans. Blomkamp was a perfect choice to direct this movie about the unlikely transition from a video game to a real racetrack that was accomplished by Mardenborough. Blomkamp was focused on making the film as realistically as possible without overusing visual effects, and he understood the old-school logistical planning required to get the number of cars he needed to each of the many racetrack locations. Production was on a quick turnaround, and the complex shoot itself was completed at the speed of a car race.

“Every time you see the actors in the car, they’re going the speed that it looks like they’re going,” Blomkamp says. In this sense, Gran Turismo was made with a similar commitment to accurate recreation of speed as was Top Gun: Maverick. I truly appreciate this quest for authenticity in movies. I like to feel like I’m driving the racecar, not just watching it. In this sense, Blomkamp succeeded, and partly, he didn’t. There is some amazing racing footage in this movie. For me, the editing of the race scenes did not stay on the driver’s sightline long enough. The frequent shifts of point-of-view during the races were disconcerting. One minute, you are in the car with the driver; the next minute, you are overhead looking at the car from above, then from behind the group of race cars, then moving the opposite direction. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that the audience would be bored by continuously watching from the cockpit. I don’t believe so. There is a beautiful scene toward the end of the film where the race car driver and gamer blend eerily, and I would have loved to see more of that.

The tension is kept high throughout the film, thanks to the great cinematography by Jacques Jouffret, the wonderful soundtrack by Lorne Balfe and Andrew Kawczynski, and strong performances from Archie Madekwe as “Mardenborough,” David Harbour as “Jack Salter,” Djimon Hounsou as Mardenborough’s father, and Orlando Bloom as “Danny Moore.” Blomkamp auditioned many actors for the role of Mardenborough and chose Madekwe even though at 6’4” tall, he is not of the stature to be a race car driver. The director was impressed with his “real, unvarnished, and accessible” performance. Madekwe found the tight space in the cockpit to be extremely claustrophobic. However, that seems to have played as palpable jitters and fear on screen as he waits for each race to start. Blomkamp notes, “So Archie suffered, but it puts the audience in there with him.”

The real Mardenborough assisted on the film as a consultant and as a stunt driver for Madekwe. He also approved the inclusion of a racing accident, which is a key part of the movie, and the story stays close to reality. After LeMans in 2013, Mardenborough went on to have a stellar racing career.

The transition from gamer to real racer underlies the passion of all racing gamers. “In Gran Turismo (the game), you can test the limits of the track with the car in a way that real race car drivers would never do because you don’t want to endanger the car or yourself. And apparently, there is actually a slight edge that they can gain because they’ve tested it so many times and know the limits,” says Blomkamp. It is of note that the film honors Kazunori Yamauchi, the Japanese game designer who produced Gran Turismo and shows the years of painstaking work and detail that go into the development of the game. In spite of the SAG strike preventing marketing and red-carpet appearances, Gran Turismo has done well at the box office, as it should, because it’s a film worth seeing.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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