The World's Fastest Indian
directed by Roger Donaldson
(Magnolia, 2005)

The World's Fastest Indian is about motorcycles, New Zealand, speed and older people pursuing the dreams of youth. And it doesn't matter a bit if not one of those topics interests you.

The sum of the parts -- adding in there Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro -- makes for a great movie.

Munro, a pensioner whose passion is his ancient Indian Scout motorbike, has spent years in a shed in his coastal New Zealand town, coaxing greater speeds out of his bike, basically using spit and some rubber bands.

But to test his machine, to really test its mettle and his own, he needs to go to Bonneville Salt Flats. Mile after mile of flat Utah land, the standard course for setting world land speed records, would be open to him.

Of course, that's if he can afford to get himself and his bike over there. And if the speed bureaucrats even allow him to test, what with his lack of parachute or fire suit, his rigged-up corks and door hinges and his battered helmet that looks like it was worn by a World War I flying ace. Trouble is, this is now the 1960s and, even then, these up-by-their-bootstraps guys were being left in the dust, literally, in this world of speed.

So, naturally, The World's Fastest Indian is really about the relationship Munro has with his bike, and the humility with which he chases his dream and the resourcefulness he shows when no one could possibly believe he'd be successful. And, thankfully, writer/director Roger Donaldson has Hopkins, who is smart enough to eschew flash and deep-breathing drama, mainly because Munro was a real guy and that wasn't his style, either.

(It's enough to make me forgive Donaldson for directing the 1988 Tom Cruise vehicle, Cocktail.)

Two points about The World's Fastest Indian:

First, yes, the title does kind of give it away. It's not "New Zealand's Fastest Indian," or "The Guy Who Tried to Race His Indian Really Fast." You know where this film is going from the beginning.

And, second, it'll take a while to get there. Munro's bike is fast; this movie is not.

Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter if you like motorcycles, or racing, or can't point to New Zealand OR Utah on the map. It's a universal story of one person's willingness to create something amazing, a labor of love.

by Jen Kopf
14 April 2007

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