Directed, Written & Produced by Roger Donaldson
Based on the documentary: “Offerings To The God of Speed”
Sir Anthony Hopkins has been around for so long that I think it’s easy to forget just how really good he is as an actor. Most people only became Anthony Hopkins fans when they saw his mesmerizing, frightening performance as Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs” back in 1991. But I enjoyed his performances and acting style in earlier movies such as “The Elephant Man” “The Bounty””Magic” and what I think is the most quotable movie of all time: “The Lion In Winter” He has a real gift for disappearing into his characters and a great example of this gift is the biopic THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN.
It’s 1967 and Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is something of the local eccentric in the New Zealand town of Invercargill. He’s in his late 60’s, lives in a workshop and is oblivious to the fact that his grass is almost up to his knees despite pleading from his neighbor to do something about it. He’s more interested in working on his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle which he’s spent the better part of twenty-five years modifying. Burt may be eccentric but he’s also a minor national hero because of his motorcycle racing. He’s enough of a hero that the town gets together and throws him a fundraising party to send Burt to America. It’s always been a dream of Burt to run his beloved Indian during Speed Week at The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. And so he just goes ahead and heads off halfway around the world, despite his bad heart for which he takes nitroglycerine pills. He leaves his workshop/home in the care of his good friend 10 year old Tom (Aaron Murphy) and works as a cook on a tramp steamer for passage for him and his motorcycle to America. Once there he meets up with various characters that help him achieve his goal as he makes his way from California to Utah.
You may have noticed that I’ve been extremely lean in describing the plot of THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN and that’s because there really isn’t a whole lot of plot and not even a whole lot of suspense. Burt Munro was a real guy and he did run his motorcycle at Bonneville in 1967 and returned there several more times after that, setting speed records that still stand today. THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN isn’t the kind of movie you watch to figure out the intricacies of the plot and story. Instead you sit back and allow yourself to watch the adventures of this slightly daffy old coot that despite his age is still a speed freak. Burt is only interested in one thing: seeing how fast his beloved Indian will go and then tinkering with it to make it go even faster. I liked the early scenes set in Invercargill where it’s amusing to see that even though Burt exasperates and aggravates the hell out of his friends and neighbors they genuinely like him and care about him. Even the neighborhood motorcycle gang chips in and gives Burt ‘beer money’ while providing him with an honor escort to the dock.
Once in America the movie becomes a road picture with Burt meeting a variety of colorful characters, all who are charmed and intrigued by the old eccentric with the odd accent and his somewhat unusual goal. There’s the used car salesman (Paul Rodriguez) who sells him a car dirt cheap and lets him use the car lot workshop to build a trailer to transport his motorcycle. There’s the cross dressing night clerk (Chris Williams) of a hot sheet hotel who is utterly smitten with Burt. Ada (Diane Ladd) gives Burt a hand repairing his trailer when it throws a wheel and ends up giving him a whole lot more if you know what I mean nudge nudge wink wink. And once Burt finally gets to Bonneville he’s befriended by Jim Enz (Christopher Lawford) when it turns out that Burt never bothered to register his motorcycle. He figured he could just show up at Bonneville and run his bike. His bike is also far from meeting the safety codes and the officials think Burt is going to kill himself riding that thing. Jim Enz, along with several others (William Lucking, Walter Goggins) succeeds in changing the minds of the officials and they allow Burt to run his beloved Indian.
By now you should have tumbled that this isn’t a high-octane action movie. So if you demand explosions, gunfights, kung fu battles and car chases in your movies then this one you should steer clear of. This just isn’t that kind of movie. I think it really sets the tone of the entire movie in the early scenes when it’s shown that even though Tom’s parents think that Burt is a real pain in the ass as a neighbor they allow their son to hang out with the old guy and befriend him. Burt just has that effect on everybody he meets and by the end of the movie he had that same effect on me. Anthony Hopkins is just wonderful as Burt Munro. You may start out trying to find bits and pieces of other characters Hopkins has played here but you simply can’t. Burt Munro is a unique character indeed and I’m glad I got to spend time with him.
So should you see THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN? Sure. If you’re an Anthony Hopkins fan you’ll definitely want to check this one out. And if you’re in the mood for something that’s truly uplifting without being syrupy sweet or sappy then this fits the bill as well. It’s warm; it’s funny and delightful from start to finish. Highly recommended.