Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The World's Fastest Indian: Weak title, wonderful film

The World's Fastest Indian (biography, drama, sport)
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd

Magnolia Pictures | 2005 | 127 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Feb 13, 2007

Video codec: MPEG-2
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Original aspect ratio 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, Spanish

Single 50GB Blu-ray disc (region free)

The Film 4.5/5

This film wasn't on my radar until a friend recommended it. The title seemed meaningless and I really couldn't imagine what it might be about. As a fan of Anthony Hopkins, I decided to buy it and give it a chance.

Good decision.

Forget that it's labeled as a sports movie or a biography. It's a great human interest story showing how passion and determination can overcome the odds.

The film opens with a shot of Burt Munro (Hopkins) waking up. Until he speaks, he's just Anthony Hopkins. Then the New Zealand accent comes out and Munro starts to emerge.

Burt Munro lived in Invercargill, New Zealand and had a dream to go to Bonneville Flats, Utah to see how fast his motorcycle could go. He tinkered with the bike for 25 years to make it as fast as possible. He was born in 1899 and first visited Bonneville in 1956, setting the speed record for bikes under 1,000cc in 1967. So while the choice of Hopkins looks strange, he was the right age and a perfect fit for the part.

Munro held several speed records in New Zealand before making his first trip and was something of a celebrity. He annoyed his neighbors by working on his bike in the early mornings and urinating on his lemon tree. He was quite a character.

Hopkins plays him as an eccentric with passion for his hobby and a lot of charm. He has the ability to win people over to his way of thinking and borrows the money he needs to make the trip to the US from the local bank. He also has heart trouble, but hides that from most people. His honesty and the way he accepts when he is wrong makes him easy to like.

The film really takes off when he makes the trip. He travels by boat and pays for the passage by working as its chef. After arriving in the US, he has to face the reality of the high prices and the chance that people will try to rip him off. He books into a motel, more often used by prostitutes, and befriends the night clerk.

Although he's initially naive, he turns out to be perfectly capable of surviving in his new surroundings. He buys a car and negotiates well, making another friend in the process, then makes the trip to Utah. The Indian in the title is a type of motorcycle manufactured in 1920. He tows it on a trailer that he made and somehow gets it to Bonneville on time.

Having made the long trip from the other side of the world, he's informed that he can't race because he hadn't registered.

Another friend, who he met casually on his arrival in Utah, tries to persuade the officials to let him race. They say no because not only did he fail to register, his bike is totally unsafe and he doesn't even have safety gear. Munro isn't having any of it and persuades a couple of people to help him test the bike one morning. The officials agree to the test to shut him up, but his passion and determination convince them that he knows what he's doing. He's allowed to race.

The rest is history. He's accepted and admired by the fans and made the trip several more times.

The special features show the real Burt Munro and Hopkins played him perfectly. Hopkins is also on record as saying it's probably the best thing he has ever done. Quite a statement when you look at the roles he has had throughout his career. I don't quite agree, but it's certainly up there.

This is one of those films that shouldn't work. It reminds me of Seabiscuit in some ways. Few people would think they have any interest in the subject matter, but the story and the acting make you care.

You don't have to be a fan of bikes. Just give this a chance and see what magic Hopkins has worked to bring Munro's character back to life.

Director Roger Donaldson had wanted to film this story for 25 years. His script is excellent and his passion for the subject matter comes shining through. 

Video Quality 4/5
The presentation is decent for the most part although some of the scenes set in the dark of Munro's shed are thick with grain. It didn't stop me enjoying this unusual story. Although the MPEG-2 Blu-ray was an early release for the format, it's actually pretty good. The decision to change from the film's original aspect ratio was the choice of director Roger Donaldson.

Sound Quality 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is up to the task. It is particularly effective once the story reaches Bonneville Flats and we hear Munro revving the engine to see what the Indian can achieve. The film is shot in such a way that you feel as if you're riding the bike, and the sound completes the effect.

Special Features 4/5

Audio commentary with writer/directer Roger Donaldson.

The making of The World's Fastest Indian (45:27) - Comprehensive feature.

Deleted scenes (4:08) - Four additional scenes.

Burt Munro: Offerings to the god of speed (27:30) - Meet the real Burt Munro. Hopkins doesn't look much like him, but sounds like him and captures his personality.

Southland: Burt's hometown of Invercargill ( 2:55).

Soundtrack promo.

I would recommend this film to anyone. It doesn't matter whether you are male, female, young or old. Hopkins will charm you and hold your interest for the whole two hours.

Overall score 4.5/5

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