The World’s Fastest Indian

Cast:
Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro
Diane Ladd as Ada
Christopher Lawford as Jim Moffet
Paul Rodriguez as Fernando
Chris Williams as Tina
Juliana Bellinger as Jackie
Chris Bruno as Bob Higby
Jessica Cauffiel as Wendy
Wesley Dowdell as Troy
Tim Farmer as Warren
Patrick Flueger as Rusty
Bruce Greenwood as Jerry
Walton Goggins as Marty Dickerson
Kate Sullivan as Doris
Annie Whittle as Fran
Annette Wright as Rhonda
Saginaw Grant as Jake
Gavin Grazer as Mike
Joe Howard as Otto Donner
Greg Johnson as Duncan
William Lucking as Rollie Free
Morgan Lund as Leroy the Cowboy
Michael Mantell as Glenn
Tessa Mitchell as Sarah
Laurel Moglen as Ali
Aaron Murphy as Tom
Eric Pierpoint as Earl
Iain Rea as George
Mick Rose as Brian
Daniel Sing as Ken
Antony Starr as Jeff
Tony Wilson as Captain

Summary:
Any flaws in this real-life road movie are forgivable, since Anthony Hopkins’ delightful performance as the eccentric Burt Munro is the true heart and soul of this highly enjoyable film.

Story:
Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a reclusive New Zealand loner, who has spent his life modifying a vintage Indian motorcycle hoping to set a land speed record by racing it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. In order to fulfill his lifelong dream, Burt starts off on the long journey, meeting all sorts of strange characters along the way.

Analysis:
It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a movie character as eccentric and loveable as Burt Munro, but if the real Munro is anything like how he’s portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in this enjoyable inspired-by-a-true-story film, it’s no wonder that director Roger Donaldson (“The Recuit”) spent most of his career trying to turn Munro’s story into a feature film after making a documentary about him over thirty years ago.

Told in three distinct acts, the film begins in Munro’s native environment of Invercargill, New Zealand, where he spends most of his time in his garage-like home working on his vintage motorbike, even smelting his own pistons to make it as fast as possible. This opening half hour does a fine job setting up the late ’60s time period and introducing us to this eccentric personality. Like Geoffrey Rush’s David Helfgott in “Shine” or Billy Bob Thornton in “Sling Blade,” Burt is a strange character with a gruff exterior, and the boy next door is fascinated by his work. Burt’s fairly charming and loveable, and the acclaim he has achieved in his hometown has won him many fans and friends willing to help him achieve his lifelong dream of trying to set a land speed record with his bike at Utah’s legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, a vast dried-out lake bed that stretches for miles in every direction, making it the perfect setting for high speed racing.

After a long ocean journey, Burt arrives in America, and the film dramatically changes into a typical fish-out-of-water comedy with Burt meeting all sorts of strange L.A. characters, like a kindly transvestite and a used car salesman, played by Paul Rodriguez, who offers Burt a shop in exchange for his mechanical services. Once Burt hits the road to Utah, he meets an even wider array of Americans–a lonely window, a real-life Indian and even a hitchhiking soldier on leave from Vietnam–all of whom offer their help or company on Burt’s journey. This section of the film meanders a bit, since these encounters don’t do very much to move Burt’s story forward, particularly the soldier, who seems to have been included more as a statement against war.

Fortunately, things get back on track when Burt finally arrives at Bonneville, and the movie finally hits its stride. It’s pretty obvious that Burt’s earlier road trip encounters should have been trimmed or saved for the DVD to get to this point sooner. Burt’s attempt at a record almost doesn’t happen because he never registered to race, but he makes the most of the situation, building a fan club of supporters in the process. There may be a bit too much unnecessary melodrama in this section, between Burt’s problems with the judges and his escalating heart problems, but it builds to the film’s amazing climactic run with Burt riding his jury-rigged motorbike at upwards of 200 miles-per-hour. Although it’s hard to believe that Hopkins is ever really riding a motorbike, it’s hard not to be swept up by the huge adrenaline rush in those high-speed scenes.

Burt Munro may be Anthony Hopkins’ most instantly lovable character to date, even if it isn’t nearly as deep or complex a character as some of his past roles. Watching Burt deal with different situations and the people he meets is what makes the film such a wonderful change of pace, because Burt never gives up or lets things get to him. Everything Burt says or does is worth at least a chuckle, if not a hearty laugh, due to Hopkins’ note-perfect comic delivery. Despite an enormous supporting cast, none of them are ever able to get out from under Hopkins’ shadow, which is probably how it should be.

Wisely, Donaldson uses old-fashioned storytelling and filmmaking techniques to tell Burt’s story, and it’s really nice to see a biodrama that remains light and cheerful, rather than resorting to the dark and dreary drama that tends to be the norm. The attempts to stay true to the film’s late ’60s period sometimes falters, especially in the end where only a few costumes differentiate it from the modern day, but that aside, it’s commendable that Donaldson, like Burt, was finally able to achieve this lifelong dream and he’s made a truly entertaining film in the bargain.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, “The World’s Fastest Indian” is a sweet and uplifting Kiwi-centric story, and Anthony Hopkins’ wonderful performance makes Burt Munro’s amazing journey one that should appeal to anyone looking for the type of simpler storytelling that has been sorely missing from today’s movies.

The World’s Fastest Indian opens in select cities on Friday, February 3.

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