‘Gran Turismo’ is a sports drama film directed by Neill Blomkamp that follows the journey of a middle-class gamer as he becomes a professional race car driver. Following a motorsport executive, Danny Moore’s innovative vision of bringing the best Gran Turismo gamers together to find the next top racer, Jann Mardenborough, an aspiring race car driver with remarkable skills, finds the opportunity to compete in the elite sport. Mentored by Jack Salter, a failed racer, and scrutinized by the entire racing world, Jann takes on the most crucial undertaking of his life.
This film is a unique but fitting blend of a video-game-to-screen adaptation and a moving sports story. With realistic recreations of PlayStation’s popular racing simulation game, the film remains true to its eponymous inspiration while staying grounded in reality. Furthermore, following Jann Mardenborough’s rise to fame, the film depicts a compelling underdog narrative infused with an authentic storyline. However, how much of that storyline has a basis in reality? Let’s find out!
Is Gran Turismo a True Story?
Yes, ‘Gran Turismo’ is based on a true story. It is an action-adventure biographical drama about Jann Mardenborough’s career, focusing on his time in the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy. Although the film, penned by the well-known screenwriter Jason Hall alongside Zach Baylin, incorporates a lot of real-life events and details into its central narrative, it is equally liberal with artistic license while depicting the racer’s life story. Many characters, including Orlando Bloom’s Danny Moore and David Harbour’s Jack Salter, are fictional characters with varying basis in reality.
Considering the space Moore occupies within the film’s universe and the narrative, viewers can easily see the resemblance between his character and Darren Cox. The latter is the original creator behind the Nissan GT Academy, which produced 22 gamers-turned-racers in its 8-year run from 2008 to 2016. Nonetheless, Cox, aware of the parallel between himself and Bloom’s character in ‘Gran Turismo,’ offered some clarifications about the differences between the two in a conversation with Dexerto.
Although Cox isn’t bothered by the inaccurate representation of himself in Moore, he clarified that the character is only an approximation of himself instead of a real on-screen counterpart. “These things have to be done because it’s Hollywood, but my real character absolutely isn’t about just trying to save the moment,” said Cox. “[Danny Moore is] certainly not as rebellious and anti-establishment as I was, and the program was back in the day.”
In comparison, Harbour’s character, Jack Salter, presents an amalgamation of different influences with no firm roots in an individual personality. Therefore, the actor drew from his own experiences and worldview for his performance, tapping into the innate relatability within his character. Salter inhabits the classic older, gruff mentor position within Mardenborough’s journey, starting in a predictably pessimistic place.
Discussing the relatability within Salter’s character arc in an interview with ScreenRant, Harbour said, “And then to see him [Salter] reawaken through this surrogate of Jann and with Archie [Madekwe], I think that was really easy and natural. I think he’s just a natural talent, and he’s very game. He really wants to do good work. And it becomes meta in another way, where it’s like I’m this older actor looking at this younger actor and saying, you could do greater things than I can. You can do something in this world. I’m just grizzled and angry and tired. Take the mantle, my friend.”
Alternatively, Archie Madekwe’s central character, Jann Mardenborough, is entirely based on real life, with his character arcs and plotlines drawing direct inspiration from the real-life athlete’s unbelievable journey. Still, the film plays around with certain aspects of reality, moving timelines and details in service to the narrative. The film’s decision to incorporate Mardenborough’s 2014 Nürburgring crash forms the most controversial example.
In 2014, during a VLN endurance race competition, Mardenborough’s Nissan GT3 Nismo left the racetrack and landed in the crowd, resulting in the death of one spectator and leaving several injured. The tragedy, though chronologically misplaced in the film, significantly informs Mardenborough’s on-screen character and plays a critical role in the film’s narrative.
Although the same received some criticism from audiences, the real-life Mardenborough, who worked as Archie’s stunt double in the film, defended the movie’s out-of-time depiction of the accident. “It’s my life; it’s part of my story,” he said. “So I feel it would have been a disservice for the audience for that not to be in there.” Mardenborough further stated that everyone ensured the instance was authentically portrayed and provided a realistic account of the tragic accident.
The Neill Blomkamp directorial’s strong suit comes from its dual nature as a biography and a video game film at a time when the latter is already starting to fill up the market. The very same uncommon approach attracted the filmmaker to the story. “I mean, the thing about the movie that I thought was unique and a different way to approach video game films was this totally unusual approach of it being a biography,” shared Blomkamp in a conversation with Moviefone.
“His [Jann Mardenborough’s] life is very interesting,” Blomkamp continued, “and this combination of real-world racing and the drama of the real world where we’re not in the narrative of a video game, but the video game is so integral to his journey and to the movie. I thought that was a really cool and unusual way of approaching a video game movie.” In that regard, ‘Gran Turismo’ almost presents a fictionalized biography of certain real-life events and people with a heavy dose of creative liberty.
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