Gran Turismo (Rated PG-13)
By: Adam Freed
The preliminary laps of Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and Sony Pictures’ Gran Turismo provide little evidence to dispel any preconceived apprehensions that the true story of gamer turned racer Jann Mardenborough would be little more than a 2 hour promotional vehicle for Nissan and PlayStation. Somewhere just beyond the film’s second eye roll inducing soliloquy defending the validity of esports racers, the film takes a high speed turn towards salvation with the introduction of David Harbour. In Gran Turismo, Harbour achieves the rarest of acting feats, he injects an emotional gravity into somewhat bland source material, allowing the film to find traction and settle itself into becoming an enjoyable and subtly emotional success.
Film adaptations of video games have a long and infamous Hollywood history. With far more abomination than admiration, films like Rampage (2018), Prince of Persia (2010) and Mortal Kombat (1995) have all but cemented the legacy of enjoyable console entertainment turned nightmarish screen fare. With this history considered, the casting of lovable yet damaged everyman Harbour proves the risk that Gran Turismo desperately needed to take. Emotional investment is attempted and at least partially obtained in two phases in Blomkamp’s racing adventure. First is the father son dynamic shared between Steve Mardenborough, played by an underused Dijmon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) and his son Jann, presented with convincing trepidation by Archie Madekwe. Although the relationship covers little new ground, it is the presentation of their family dynamic and admirable acting prowess that gently tugs at the heartstrings. The second emotional munition Blomkamp unveils is Harbour, who seems to wear his commonness as a means of injecting a simultaneous sympathy and gravity into his character. Very few actors have had this particular gift, most notably the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who also had a knack to elevate the common on the remarkable strength of his commonality.
What eventually becomes of Gran Turismo is a film that laps watchability and ends up neck and neck with excitement. As the production overcomes a predictable and choppy first act, it reaches its best moments on the back of its performances and Neill Blomkamp’s laudable knack for shooting compelling and immersive racing sequences that will have audiences leaning into turns and burning through straightways. Gran Tursimo works extremely hard to outpace the limitations placed on it by a true, yet flat story, in order to present itself on the positive end of historical video game adaptations. Be wary of individuals who ambitiously award this film a place on the podium with the best racing films in history. Be equally wary of those who would overlook the devastatingly understated talent of David Harbour and argue that Gran Turismo doesn't finish the race.
Target Score: 6/10 Overcomes early bumps and a predictable premise in time to remind audiences that watching David Harbour carry a movie for 2 hours is worth the price of admission.