The World's Fastest Indian

on December 07, 2005 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
The Indian of the title is not a person but a motorcycle -- specifically, a 1920 Indian Twin Scout. That's the vehicle of choice for Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), a stubborn old New Zealander who set out in the early 1960s to race in Utah's famous Bonneville Salt Flats competition. Munro was a real person and a logical choice for the subject of a film from New Zealand expatriate director Roger Donaldson ("The Recruit," "The Bounty"), who actually met the man in 1971.

Munro's is an inherently dramatic tale, as he showed up in Bonneville reportedly not having registered for the race. But through determination, luck and loads of support from the Americans, he not only got to enter the contest but actually won it. A few years later in Bonneville, he also set a land speed record that still stands today.

As Munro, Hopkins is terrific, essaying the difficult part of a man who is at times an unsophisticated naif, adrift in the world outside his native Invercargill, but also someone who knows what he's doing and, more importantly, how to get exactly what he wants. With his sly smile, folksy manner and just a hint of anger beneath the surface, Hopkins' Munro is an indelible character for whom you can't help rooting. And Donaldson never pushes the story's sentiment or inherent underdog formula too far; "The World's Fastest Indian" is mostly content to leave the Hollywood inspirational tropes to others. One does have to ignore the film's ridiculous middle, wherein Munro befriends a smorgasbord of amiable but oddly clich├ęd Americans, including a black transvestite (Chris Williams) and a Hispanic car dealer (Paul Rodriguez). Fortunately, Donaldson and company get back on track for the film's uplifting but subdued conclusion. Yes, it's well-made schmaltz, but that's not a bad thing. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd and Chris Williams. Directed and written by Roger Donaldson. Produced by Roger Donaldson and Gary Hannam. A Magnolia release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference. Running time: 127 min

Tags: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Chris Williams, Roger Donaldson, Gary Hannam, A Magnolia release, Drama, underdog, folksy, sentiment, oddly, uplifting

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