Written and Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Annie Whittle, Diane Ladd, Chris Williams.
Rated: PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference.
Parental Notes: This film ought to be fine for preteens and older. There are a handful of sexual references – Burt was an attractive old fellow, after all – but nothing graphic is shown. The drug references and language are likewise mild. There are some scary sequences involving motorcycle racing, so it may be too intense for younger children.
Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) was a dedicated, passionate man. He gave up everything in pursuit of his dream: to make his 1920 Indian motorcycle the fastest of its kind. Born in Invercargill, New Zealand, near the turn of the century, Munro is a folk hero known to his countrymen and to speed enthusiasts, but few others. “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a film about his life, may change that.
As the film begins, the old New Zealander is living off his pension, sleeping in a glorified shed on a cot next to his motorcycle. He’s always dreamed of taking it out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for Speed Week, when speed demons test their vehicles in a dry lakebed, but the trip is impossibly far. Then he has a heart attack and realizes if he doesn’t do it soon, he might never do it at all.
Getting to Bonneville winds up being quite an odyssey. First Burt has to raise enough money to get there by boat. Then he has to make it from Los Angeles, where his ship lands, to Bonneville. He meets many people and gets into and out of various sorts of trouble until he finally makes it to Bonneville – only to be told that he should have registered weeks ago. Still, he’s armed with the two things that got him out there to begin with: his charm and ability to make friends.
It’s a matter of history that Burt made it to Bonneville and set the land speed record on his old bike, in defiance of everyone’s expectations. Under its shiny red siding, the bike looks like a junk heap, with antiquated brakes, no safety equipment, and everything from an old hinge to a brandy cork holding it together. Even so, Burt takes the contraption he affectionately calls “the old girl” and together they shoot across the desert at over two hundred miles per hour. We know Burt will make it – he’s a hero, and this is no tragic tale of failed and broken dreams.
It’s not the suspense of whether or not Burt will live his dream that draws us into the film, it’s Burt himself. The crazy old codger is impossibly sweet, modest, and determined, and so charming that it’s nigh impossible not to like him. We know he will find a way to run his motorcycle and break that record, one way or another. Police officers who pull him over, officials who tell him he can’t pass safety inspection, and all the other disbelievers will be won over, just as we were.
Hopkins is in top form here, and it’s easy to forget while watching him that he’s played frightening, intelligent, cold-hearted men in the past. He inhabits Burt Munro so completely that he doesn’t even seem to be acting. Burt is a bit deaf, a bit muddled at times, and Hopkins brings both the characters old-man mannerisms and his passion to life on the screen. He has a fine supporting cast, which helps, but this is Hopkins’ film.
“The World’s Fastest Indian” is a appealing film. It may not be a groundbreaking tale, but it is a solid entry in the classic genre of a man accomplishing his goal against all odds. Hopkins’ performance is delightful, and his Burt has so much charm that the movie as a whole is as hard to dislike as the old man himself.