The World’s Fastest Indian is a treasure of a film; a true rarity in today’s quick cash grabs market. The trailers would lead one to believe that the film is squarely aimed at racing techies preoccupied with souping up their rusted heap in the backyard, but Burt Munro (Hopkins) is so likable that even those in search of a comedy-adventure will come away smiling ear to ear. The excitement is contagious.
The story kicks off in Invercargill, New Zealand where Munro, wise in his older years but still possessing the enthusiasm of an eighteen-year-old, is cooped up in his shed thinking of ways to make his 1920 Indian motorcycle go faster. He is a master mechanic, skillful and precise. His goal: to set the land speed record at the annual Speed Week, held at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. His project has attracted the attention of his young next door neighbor, Thomas (Murphy), much to the dismay of his parents, who are sick to death of being awaken at the crack of dawn by Munro’s loud engine tests. Word gets around town regarding his goal, and he is soon given a grand farewell as he begins his trek to Utah.
The bulk of the film logs Munro’s journey as he meets unique locals in each town and must keep finding clever ways to keep his bike on the trailer attached to his rust bucket of a used car. He eventually reaches Bonneville, and the rest is history.
Writer/Director Roger Donaldson’s screenplay is talky and loaded with wit. He keeps the film moving at a pretty decent clip and manages to pack in more down-to-earth humor than the past dozen or so big budget “comedies” released. The film harks back to the good old days of clean, intrinsically funny humor – something that is sorely lacking in the current market of bad slapstick and overall weirdness. Donaldson’s direction is tight and really pumps up the adrenaline during the race scenes, all the while being delightfully playful with Hopkins’ numerous acquaintances during his expedition.
The true owner of this movie, however, is Anthony Hopkins in what is easily in his top three greatest performances. He morphs into Burt Munro, bringing energy and a flawless demeanor to the role. His thick accent and lackluster hearing make for some hilarious sequences, and Hopkins’ ability to play the role so straight is the key ingredient to its success. His monologue when he finally reaches Bonneville is vintage heartfelt Hopkins. This is a masterful actor on display in top form. The supporting work is also of high quality, particularly Christopher Lawford as Jim and Chris Williams as Tina Washington, a sweet and well-meaning drag queen.
As is the case with so many great films, The World’s Fastest Indian is in limited release and may not reach most folks before the end of its theatrical run. I’m truly hoping that word of mouth will drive this to a successful DVD release, as this is a great offering for those who truly miss great, heartfelt cinema. Burt Munro’s story is exceptionally inspirational and one of the best movie going experiences I’ve had in at least the past year. This is Donaldson’s best film to date and yet another demonstration of the sheer brilliance of Anthony Hopkins.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 127 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference.
Theatrical Release: December 7, 2005 (LA/NY) / February 3, 2006 (Limited)
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Written by: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Cauffiel, Saginaw Grant, Diane Ladd, Christopher Lawford, Aaron Murphy