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I’ve seen ‘Gran Turismo’

I’m not into cars. I once owned a PlayStation 2, but I’ve never played the racing simulator game after which this film is named. I’m patently not the target audience for this recently released Neill Blomkamp film. If it weren’t for my ‘new approach’ to going to the cinema, there’s no way on Earth that I’d have seen this.

The film is based on a true story. The main character is Jann Mardenborough, a young lad who is very skilled at the Gran Turismo computer game and is thereby recruited and trained up to drive real racing cars. The tension in the film comes from whether someone from outside can make it in the highly competitive world of racing… though, of course, the existence of the film is its own spoiler.

I sort of enjoyed this. It was too long—two hours and 14 minutes—and I could have done without all the extended racing sequences. I’ll confess that I had a bit of a micro-snooze in many of them. They didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly cinematically clever, and they didn’t really advance the plot, as the outcome was often plain from the start. Yet, I was captivated by Archie Madekwe’s performance as Mardenborough, and did find myself rooting for him.

But there were issues.

Firstly, some of the characterisation was awful. Orlando Bloom could not have been less convincing as PR man Danny Moore if his dialogue had been replaced by silent-film-style interstitials. It was awful. His character had essentially no narrative arc, his drive appeared to come entirely from wanting to promote Nissan, and his whole schtick was morally questionable given the life-and-death stakes for other characters. The character was poorly written, and Bloom wasn’t able to overcome that.

I didn’t recognise Ginger Spice Geri Horner as Lesley Mardenborough—I’m not good with celebrities—but did find myself wondering what had gone wrong in the film-making process. The delivery of her lines was so detached from the situations in which they took place that I found myself wondering if there had been a sickness-driven last-minute substitution or similar. This didn’t interfere with my enjoyment in any major way, though, as the character was so minor.

Which brings us to… the almost total absence of substantive roles for women in this film. Of the first twenty credited actors, only two are women. I don’t understand why you’d make that creative choice. Sure, if this was intended to be biographically accurate, then you’re limited, but it has been widely criticised for straying quite far from the facts. So why not make the creative choice to re-cast Bloom’s character as female? That could even supply a nice narrative arc as a female PR agent battles stereotypes to establish her credentials in a male-dominated industry. It’d be more satisfying than the main motivation being to sell more Nissans. I should acknowledge Maeve Courtier-Lilley, who managed to give some depth to her role despite only being given, like, five lines.

This is also a film that patronises. There are many scenes which begin with establishing shots of well-known skylines, overlaid with both the city and the country in large letters. For example: here’s the Eiffel Tower, let’s just overlay this shot with “PARIS, FRANCE” to make sure the audience really gets it. I’m afraid this really hit my funny bone, and I found myself audibly sniggering each time it happened. Plot points are also telegraphed: there’s a section of the film where Mardenborough must come in fourth place or better to progress, and this point is hammered home so many times for the audience that it begins to hurt.

But mostly… I don’t understand why the team decided to make the racing the main point of tension in the film when the outcome is obvious. It strikes me as a really odd creative decision, but maybe that’s because I’m under-appreciating the popular appeal of the racing sequences. There’s an underplayed subplot about Mardenborough’s relationship with his dad, and I think that’s where I would have located the heart of the film. There are interesting stages to their relationship: frustration at Jaan’s preference for computer games over physical sport; a feeling of exclusion driven by the expensive, elite nature of the sport; fatherly concern at the dangers involved; and, ultimately, reflection on the lack of support he provided. There’s a lot in there that could have been unpacked through the racing, with reconciliation perhaps serving as a more rewarding ending.

Perhaps what this whole review really says is: I don’t particularly warm to racing movies, and would have liked this to be an entirely different kind of film. Who knows? This is a film I would never, under normal circumstances, have seen or had any opinion on. I’m glad I saw it, and feel like I learned a little more about my own film preferences as a result.

This post was filed under: Film, Post-a-day 2023, , , , , , .

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