Director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, No Way Out) has been obsessed for more than 30 years with telling the story of Kiwi tinkerer and speed freak Burt Munro, whose 1967 land speed record for motorcycles under 1000 cc still stands today. Donaldson used his 1971 documentary Offerings to the God of Speed, about the real Burt Munro, as a springboard for making The World's Fastest Indian. After garnering funding for the film and landing Anthony Hopkins for the lead role, the production was on.
The heart and soul of the film is Anthony Hopkins whose Burt is a real sweetheart. An old coot that, because of his worldly naivetÃ©, should not succeed, but due to his dry wit, infectious charm and pleasant demeanor does. Hopkins fits the role nicely. In fact, I often lost myself in his character, not even realizing it was Hopkins acting on the screen. To sell the role he had to sell me on Burt's love for his motorcycle. And after watching the film, I realize that the Indian is a quite special machine and Burt's relationship to it was something just this side of a romantic one.
The film opens in Munro's work shed that doubles as his home in a small village in New Zealand. He melts down old car parts and scraps of metal like a master blacksmith to forge his own pistons and cams. He can't afford racing slicks, so he borrows the neighbor's carving knife to shave the tread off the bike's tires. It's his makeshift mentality and can-do attitude that makes us root for his success. It becomes clear early on that Burt's not going to let anything get in the way of his dreams.
Burt finally saves enough money to fund his trip to the States. He crates his motorcycle, boards a US-bound freighter and upon his eventual arrival in Los Angeles, buys a used car, builds a trailer and heads out on the road to the Salt Flats of Utah. It's at this point that the film becomes a road flick and every stop along the way brings with it a new and interesting character. At his first stay-over in L.A. he meets an overly-friendly hotel night clerk (Chris Williams) who happens to be a cross-dresser. Native American Jake (Saginaw Grant) puts up Burt for the night and also passes along a rather disgusting but proven formula for prostrate problems. Diane Ladd plays a resourceful junkyard owner who not only helps Burt with his busted trailer, but also shows Burt the way to her bed. All these little side vignettes don't really go anywhere but they add so much to the experience, showing us Burt's ability to accept anybody for who they are. If Donaldson is trying to tell us that all Kiwis are this friendly and personable, I want to go there someday.
Even upon Burt's arrival at the Bonneville Salt Flats, his misadventures are not over. He soon learns that long before he began his 7000-mile journey, he failed to register for a spot at the time trials. It's then determined his bike doesn't meet safety specs and his heart condition deems him a safety risk. But Burt's supporters rally to his cause and the officials decide to give him a run.
Donaldson gives the film a down-home Americana feel, juxtaposing Burt's friendly innocence against the sometimes-harsh reality of the world he doesn't know or understand. But we're never really treated to a complete and full-bodied experience and we never get a real sense of danger because Donaldson often pulls punches that deemphasize Burt's conflicts. But then again, Hopkins's performance is the star of the show and that alone is enough to recommend the movie.
Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.
* Audio Commentary - With writer/director Roger Donaldson.
o Offerings to the Gods of Speed - 29 minutes - includes real-life footage of Burt Munroe, his friends and his family.
* Deleted Scenes
o Four scenes that didn't make the final cut.
o The Making of The Worlds Fastest Indian - 22-minutes
* Promotional Piece - Advertisement for Burt's hometown of Southland, Invercargill.
Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging
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