“Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story” is about a video game… no, make that an auto racing simulator! — and it is based on — what else — a true story. Not a story about the origin of the ‘racing simulator’, but about one of the players. He actually learned enough to go on and become a race car driver IRL (In Real Life).
Around the year 2011, the “auto racing simulator” Gran Turismo has been released and been adoringly played for 14 years. A working-class bloke from Cardiff is one such expert player. Jann Mardenborough (played by Archie Madekwe) has a low-paying job, just so he can afford to buy more features for his ‘Gran Turismo’ video game.
His father, Steve (played by Djimon Hounsou), is worried that Jann spends too much time in his own racing world. His mother Lesley (played by Geri Halliwell) thinks that Jann needs to get a new hobby.
A marketing executive for a car company, named Danny Moore (played by Orlando Bloom), comes up a tie-in to an elite race. The ‘racing simulator’ online profiles have thousands of ‘drivers’. One of them can be a winner to participate in Real World racing. The human interest aspect of this story is undeniable. The company agrees to sponsor the “GT Academy”, just as long as there is an experienced Head Trainer and Coach.
Danny finds a very good Trainer and mechanic and coach. This was not his first choice. In fact, it was close to last choice. But Danny contacts Jack Salter (played by David Harbour), who is former Driver in his own right. Jack has a long history with racing, but something made him walk away from it. Jack agrees to be the one in charge of the students, knowing this effort is doomed.
Jann enters the competition for expert Gran Turismo drivers. He finds out that he has won a slot to be in the “GT Academy”. There have been ten people chosen from around the world to participate. One person will be selected to be an actual GT Driver. The competition is fierce.
Danny is the one who is getting the sponsors lined up and exited to see “Gran Turismo” training turned into actual Racing experience. Jack Salter is there to put a damper in everyone’s expectations. He tells the group that all of them should get used to failing out. Because there are so many ways to lose it all on the racetrack — and Jack will push all of them to find that limit…
There is another guy from the United States, named Matty Davis (played by Darren Barnet). Matty has a whole lot of driving skill and a lot of self-confidence. This is something that Jann lacks. He does not work himself up into a frenzy before a race. Not like the other drivers, who listen to heavy metal and loud rock. Jann would instead chill out to Kenny G and Enya. That is what makes him different, and makes him a contender!
Jann Mardenborough makes it though. He is given a conditional racing license. He must compete in several races, and at minimum come in at fourth place. Nobody on the Racing Circuit gives Jann a chance to make it. His own Pit Crew is doubtful. The first few races brings out all the rookie mistakes. But, with the technical help from Jack Salter — and the chill-out effects from Kenny G — Jann starts to ease up closer to the finish line. He finally comes in at fourth place.
The Racing Circuit opens up to Jann. He now has a full license. He has Trainer and Coach in Jack Salter — someone who believes in Jann’s ability. He has Danny Moore, who is excited that his idea to get Gran Turismo players into an actual Race is showing some promise. Jann learns why Jack gave up being a Driver many years ago. He was involved in an accident at the Le Mans course, in which there was a fatality.
Soon after that, Jann is driving a race at a track in Germany. There is a bad updraft at the top on a small incline, but it too much for Jann to control. He wrecks the sports car, but not through any fault in his driving. There is fatality in the small group of people who were too close to a fence. Jann Mardenborough is slightly injured, but mentally — he is tortured by the fact that his accident caused a death.
It seems that Jann will not be able to snap out of the slump that he is in. Even his father Steve and his mother Lesley visit him and tell him the crash had nothing to do with his driving ability. Now, they have both seen how Jann has transferred his talent learned on the ‘racing simulator’ into a real-life Racing.
Jack Salter explains that he could never overcome the emotional binds that caught him from his accident. He tells Jann that he thinks Jann is a more talented Driver, and has a better way to cope with adversity. Jack tells Jann that he must “create some Kenny G anger”!
“Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story” is a unique story. It make you think it is something based on a video game (racing simulator!) and winds up being something more. The true-to-life underdog story is really fascinating. The casting is done with a lot of care. The acting is very good, from everyone involved.
It’s only the overly heavy-handed use of ‘sports tropes’ that could hold this movie back. You need a training montage, the other mean-looking Professional Driver glaring at Jann from in his car, and many other typical scenes. David Harbour plays as everybody’s favorite ‘Grumpy Uncle’ character. Orlando Bloom is also good as the idealist dreamer in a business suit. Archie Madekwe plays Jann with nervous self-confidence.
“Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story” will make you want to ‘Start Your Engine’, and then grab your Joystick.
Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Screenplay by: Jason Hall, Zach Baylin
Story by: Jason Hall, Alex Tse
Based on: Gran Turismo (by PlayStation Studios)
Starring: David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Darren Barnet, Geri Halliwell Horner, Djimon Hounsou
Cinematography: Jacques Jouffret
Music by: Lorne Balfe, Andrew Kawczynski
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Release date: August 25, 2023
Length: 134 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense action and some strong language
Genre: True Life Action