Wednesday, April 4, 2012

100 Movies - No. 95: The World's Fastest Indian

95. The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
Biography, Drama, Sport, 127 minutes
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Starring Anthony Hopkins and Diane Ladd

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 is revealed 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.

The movie works because Munro is so likable. If you only know Anthony Hopkins for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, you're in for a surprise. Hopkins is easily one of my favorite actors because he's so versatile and you often don't notice that he is acting. He brings a lot of warmth to the character of Munro and there are many humorous and touching moments. I promise you that you'll root for Munro and care about what happens to him.

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. 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. 

If you like The World's Fastest Indian:

In many ways, The World's Fastest Indian reminds me of The Straight Story, directed by David Lynch. Both movies tell the story of a journey and focus on an older character. Each man interacts with the people he meets along the way and we see the good side of humanity.

Anthony Hopkins is surely one of the best actors working today. If you want to explore some of his other performances, consider The Edge, The Remains of the Day, 84 Charing Cross Road and The Elephant Man.

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  1. Nice review, Steven! :) Before I read your review, I had no idea what this movie was about! hehe

  2. Thanks Fernando. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it's brilliant. I have no interest in motorcycle racing.