Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The World's Fastest Indian

2005, New Zealand, directed by Roger Donaldson

Based on a true story, The World's Fastest Indian is the enjoyably shaggy tale of Burt Munro, a New Zealander who set land-speed records on a souped-up elderly motorcycle while of pension age himself. As with any Rocky-esque tale, there's a dose of sentimentality here, but it doesn't overwhelm the film, which is driven by a solid performance from Anthony Hopkins as Munro. He's a shy, half-deaf fellow, stubbornly determined to live out the dream of racing his bike across the salt flats at Bonneville, in Utah. Getting that far, though, takes up most of the film's running time, and the film unspools as a light-hearted road movie in which Munro, the innocent abroad, disarms all those in his path with his quiet, humorous manner; although it's hard to believe that the reality was quite as kindly, the film tends to sucker you in with its easygoing charm. The movie is a return to form for Roger Donaldson, who is capable of excellent work (whether in the early New Zealand films Sleeping Dogs and Smash Palace or the Cuban missile crisis re-enactment of Thirteen Days); he's never tempted to force the pace, even if he does press the "emotional music" button a bit too readily. It's not hard to understand why the film did well in New Zealand: the notion that an old fellow from Invercargill could beat the world with a bit of Kiwi ingenuity and boot polish tends to burnish the national self-image; it's equally appealing to those, like myself, from other small former British colonies (especially when Munro casts aspersions on the "pommies").

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States