Directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Cauffiel, Saginaw Grant, Diane Ladd, Christopher Lawford, Chris Williams and Paul Rodriguez.
With a pitch-perfect Anthony Hopkins headlining, 'The World's Fastest Indian' is a delightful biopic about little-known New Zealand motorcycling legend Burt Munro. Munro's claim to fame was that he rebuilt a 1920 Indian motorcycle, with few resources other than his own obsession and a particularly innovative mindset called the 'Kiwi #8 wire mentality', taking it half-way across the world to break records at Salt Lake's Speed Week in the 1960s. So far, so parochial, but writer and director Roger Donaldson has taken the bones of this story and turned it into a heart-warming film that will have a broad appeal.
Opening in Munro's hometown of Invercargill, Hopkins plays the man as a gruff, but lovable old eccentric. Apart, that is, if you live next door to his early morning engine tests and unkempt garden. Munro's idea of mowing the lawn involves gasoline and a light match. He has an endearingly careless attitude towards his various infirmities - partial deafness, an enlarged prostate that forces him to urinate frequently in unlikely places, the angina attacks which he treats by stuffing fistfuls of pills down his throat - but he also has a dream; to race his 1920 Indian Twin Scout motorcycle at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats.
With more goodwill than money, he gets himself on a ship from New Zealand to California where, despite a troubled arrival, his blithe optimism soon opens doors, disarms grumpy officials and smoothes his path. With the help of a warm-hearted drag queen (Williams) and used-car salesman (Rodriguez), he sets off on a hopeful road trip - shades of David Lynch's 'The Straight Story' here, but with less weirdness - to Speed Week.
While it is a given that New Zealanders at home and abroad will love this celebration of Kiwi ingenuity, wit and humour, the story of an older man who never gives up on his dream has enough universal appeal to lift it out of the local. Anthony Hopkins is at his scene-stealing best here, capturing the rolling 'r's of the Invercargill dialect, relishing his role as an elderly Lothario (one of his lovers, when observed leaving his house in the morning, wisecracks: "What are you staring at? Dirty old men need love, too.") and bringing real euphoria to the climatic racing scenes.
The storyline may be somewhat predictable and the characters sugar-coated but the things that are a little too contrived are far outweighed by the good stuff and Burt's odyssey is completely engaging. The look of the film is wonderful and the cinematography spectacular with white salt flats that extend "almost forever" providing a dramatic backdrop. Charming and irresistible, 'The World's Fastest Indian' is a gorgeous, life-affirming little film.