|The World's Fastest Indian (2006)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Christopher Lawford, Paul Rodriguez, Walton Goggins
Director: Roger Donaldson
The age-old mantra “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that I’ve neglected to follow since childhood, so it’s not surprising that it took only one glimpse at the movie pass for “The World’s Fastest Indian” to make up my mind: this is going to be some boring shit. Luckily, the people who designed the movie poster weren’t the same ones in charge of making the film. Based on the real life events of New Zealander motorcyclist Burt Monroe, “The World’s Fastest Indian” has a Disney true-story charm to it, and while the cover may look aged and worn, it’s the story inside that’ll warm your heart and put a big ol’ smile on your face.
Sir Anthony Hopkins stars as the 63-year-old Kiwi, a “dirty old man” who’s devoted the last twenty-five years of his life to building a custom Indian motorcycle. Ever since he was a little boy, Burt has dreamed of traveling to America in an attempt to break the land speed record at the infamous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and now that a bum ticker is threatening his health, he decides to make the trip by any means necessary. After earning his fare on a boat to America, Burt arrives as a stranger in a brave new world. None of the locals can understand half of what he’s saying, and because of his old age, Burt can’t understand what they’re saying half the time. This doesn’t stop him from winning over all the help he needs on his trip from California to Utah, though, including a transvestite hotel employee (Chris Williams), a used cars salesman (Paul Rodriguez), a lonely widow (Diane Ladd), and a fellow motorcycle enthusiast (Christopher Lawford).
Roger Donaldson’s film is part underdog movie and part road trip movie, and though both of these genres are usually contaminated with a lot of feel-good fluff, “The World’s Fastest Indian” is a complete surprise. In fact, most people could only be so lucky to experience Hopkins’ charismatic performance, but sometimes it feels too good to be true. Burt Monroe may just be the nicest guy you’ve ever met, but if the story took place in any other time period other than the '50s, I’m skeptical as to how helpful his road companions would have actually been. Still, while other veteran actors continue to tarnish their careers by appearing in films they have no busy being a part of (here’s looking at you, Robert DeNiro), Anthony Hopkins has managed to get back on track just in time to write the final pages to a well-respected career.
I’m not really sure if this film will be eligible for next year’s award shows, since it technically premiered at the end of 2005, but Hopkins is certainly worthy of a Best Actor nod with his enchanting portrayal of the late Monroe. And if he missed his chance this year, then apparently nobody in the Academy saw this movie. “The World’s Fastest Indian” as everything you could ask for. It’s smart, funny, emotionally uplifting, and for once, it features a true story that’s actually worth telling.
Magnolia Pictures may not be considered a major film studio, but they sure know how to put together an entertaining DVD. Along with an informative audio commentary by writer/director Roger Donaldson, the single-disc release also includes an excellent documentary (“The Making of ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’”), a tourist video for Invercargill (“Southland: Burt’s Hometown”), and four deleted scenes. Perhaps the best addition to the DVD, however, is director Donaldson’s 1971 documentary of Burt Munro (“Offerings to the God of Speed”), which is presented in its entirety.