Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: ‘Gran Turismo’ Delivers Decent On-Track Action Amid Tepid Drama

Took long enough for another racing film to finally make its way into theaters.

The first motorsports moving picture to have a wide release since Ford v Ferrari back in 2019, Gran Turismo debuted on Aug. 24 of this year and has since grossed just south of $100 million.

Budgeted at $60 million, it’s a profit, but when Frontstretch‘s own Michael Massie and I went to see it last Wednesday (Aug. 6), there were exactly five people in the theater, including us (but still, shoutout to Regal Short Pump in Virginia).

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Since FvF, the only motorsports flicks to show up in theaters were the Kyle Busch documentary Rowdy, the IMSA doc Rookie Season and … that’s about it. And both of those were limited-release fare, since the former had a one-night-only stand on the big screen while the latter had maybe a week’s run.

I won’t sugarcoat that I initially balked a little bit at the movie — I’d much rather see a movie purely built on racing rather than having to spend a bunch of time watching the prep-work for it via a racing-simulator training camp, for lack of a better term. But I figured I’d give it a shot.

The verdict? It’s fine! It has good elements and bad elements, especially ones we noticed concerning the minutiae of motorsports. This is said in the least egotistical way possible — I promise — but that’s stuff an average “let’s go see this” viewer might not pick up on.

Let’s run through the film’s personnel very quickly. Director Neill Blomkamp made waves with his debut District 9 in 2009, following it up with the lukewarmly-received Elysium in 2013 and then two negatively-received features in Chappie and Demonic. Gran Turismo was a return to the positive side of the Tomatometer for Blomkamp, but his latest effort clocked in at just over 60%.

Lead Archie Madekwe’s biggest credits are both Ari Aster horror films — Midsommar and Beau is Afraid — and the latter, also from 2023, couldn’t be more different than Madekwe’s motorsports film. David Harbour is best known for his role in Stranger Things as Jim Hopper but has a long career including appearances in Brokeback Mountain, End of Watch and, more recently, playing Santa Claus in Violent Night.

Orlando Bloom, of course, was in everything from Lord of the Rings to Pirates of the Caribbean, and veterans Djimon Hounsou (both the Marvel and DC universes) and Thomas Kretschmann (most recently in the fifth Indiana Jones film) also show up.

A couple industry faces also make appearances. Emelia Hartford, a real-life driver, builder and personality, plays driver candidate Leah Vega, while industry staple Will Buxton is credited as a commentator.

All that said, I won’t spoil everything (even though it’s a true story), but the goal here is to outline some of my and Massie’s qualms with the movie.

First off, inconsistent is the operative word for most of our criticisms. Let’s start with the fact that Orlando Bloom’s character shows up and has a goal in mind: get the best sim drivers to compete in real cars. Fine, whatever.

Then! Out of nowhere, it’s Sudden Orlando Bloom with a beard in a promotional video! Cut back to Bloom’s character less than five minutes later? No beard.

There’s those inconsistencies, and then there are movie inconsistencies. Our hero (Jann Mardenborough) is constantly antagonized on-track by Nicholas Capa, who repeatedly roughs up the sim-turned-real racer to the point of robbing him of a top-10 finish.

Nobody — not Harbour’s mentor character, not Bloom’s more-corporate character — should be going up to Mardenborough and saying that it’s all growing pains, part of the process … which is kinda what they do. What Capa does on the track would — in any series — be worthy of a penalty or penalties. This all culminates in a very fun, cathartic scene were Capa’s car barrel-rolls about as many times as Ryan Preece did a couple weeks back at Daytona International Speedway.

Criticism has also been levied at the use of Mardenborough’s real-life crash at the Nurburgring in the capacity of a plot motivator, something that makes him question whether he should be racing and then when he eventually gets back in the car.

I don’t really have a problem with that, to be fair. The portrayal of the crash isn’t horrendous, and both the real-life and in-film crashes kill a spectator, which for racing is a pretty intriguing moral dilemma. My problem is the way the crash is depicted. With the actual incident, Mardenborough’s car gets airborne and loses some speed before tumbling through the turn barriers.

In the movie, he goes into the barriers full-speed, bottom-first in a way that would either incapacitate or kill a driver in the sense that their head, neck and spine would all basically be compressed. Again, I realize that in a very generic sense, this is how it happened in real life. But still.

Another racing-related complaint is the transitory effect of racing skills from the sim to the track. To some degree, it’s true — we’ve seen William Byron win a hell of a lot of NASCAR Cup Series races this year after gaining a lot of experience on racing rigs.

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That said, there’s normal racing carryover and then there’s racing in the rain in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Literally nothing these drivers did on the simulators could’ve prepared them for that; if you’re going to establish they’re ready for that, show them doing it in training.

One more complaint about the racing aspects: Mardenborough beats a rival in a photo finish to compete in real racing in the testing camp. They have exactly one blurry angle to go by to determine who won, rather than telemetry, multiple cameras or replays.

You know, easier avenues.

The other primary gripe lies in some of the pacing. At over two hours, it’s overlong (I’m no opponent of lengthy films, several north of 2.5 hours are among my all-time favorites) and includes some unneeded elements, like a whole police chase that a) didn’t need to happen in the first place and b) doesn’t really do much to advance the plot besides reestablish what we already know about his family dynamic.

Having the love interest subplot is fine, too, and the movie manages to not let that take up too much of the runtime (more would’ve been fine too had it not been for the useless police chase and a couple other superfluous inclusions).

David Harbour is great, so he’s kind of automatically my favorite performance here; he seems like he cares and portrays the grizzled veteran well. Bloom just kind of exists in the vacuum of this movie; he truly doesn’t seem like he cares. I did love the constant inclusions of Black Sabbath on the soundtrack though.

Look, no racing movie is going to be perfect (except for Rush, which we’ll talk about in a week or so for its 10th anniversary). Gran Turismo is no exception to this commonality, and it has some positive aspects but ultimately kind of falls short of what it could’ve been.

As I say, the good stuff in the movie is really good and a solid foundation. The pointless stuff is just too pointless.

Listen to myself and Massie discuss the movie a bit (plus the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs) on my podcast Adam Cheek’s Sports Week on Spotify and Apple.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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