The World's Fastest Indian Review
Invercargill, South Island, New Zealand, the mid 1960s. Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a widowed pensioner with a love for fast motorbikes, in particular a 1920 Indian Twin Scout. He dreams of making it the fastest bike on Earth. One day, he sets off to Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah to do just that…
The World’s Fastest Indian is a true story, so I’m not giving anything away by telling you that Burt succeeds. His 1967 land speed record stands to this day. New Zealander Writer/director Roger Donaldson knew the real Munro (1899-1978) personally, first meeting him in the early 1970s when he made a documentary (Offerings to the God of Speed) about him. After two decades of generally efficient but rather anonymous films in Hollywood, The World’s Fastest Indian has the air of a personal project for Donaldson. As well as a character study of a great eccentric it’s also a road movie – with the ending a foregone conclusion, Donaldson spends half of the film’s rather overlong two-hour running time on what Munro sees and the people he meets on his journey across America to Utah. These include a transvestite, a woman (Diane Ladd) who offers Burt a bed for the night. In these sequences, Donaldson takes the opportunity for a few fish-out-of-water jokes, a la Crocodile Dundee. These sequences could certainly have been tightened, but the film is so warm-hearted that it’s hard to complain.
There’s little doubt that Anthony Hopkins is a great actor, though he can be lazily cast: even great actors can’t play everything. (The title role in Surviving Picasso particularly comes to mind.) But Hopkins is Munro to the life, managing a convincing Kiwi accent. It’s one of those performances that seems simple, because it’s not full of ostentatious acting, but it holds the film together.