The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

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The inspiring true story of Burt Munro, the New Zealander who set the land speed motorcycle record in 1967, a record which still stands today.

Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) leads a simple life in the peaceful, sleepy town of Invercargill, New Zealand. For years, he has been tinkering with and perfecting his streamlined Indian motorcycle, which he plans to use to break the land speed record during “Speed Week” at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

While occasionally annoying the neighborhood by revving his engines at 6 AM (and refusing to mow his lawn!), Burt is still well-liked in Invercargill due to his trademark ingenuity and boyish charm. He takes local ladies out to community dances. He lets his impressionable young neighbor, Thomas (Aaron Murphy), help him out around his workshop. And he inspires lots of his friends with his dogged pursuit of greatness.

Once satisfied with the engineering performance of his Indian, Burt decides to go to the States for Speed Week. Although his fellow Kiwis wish him well, Burt draws polarizing reactions when he reaches America. Nonetheless, Burt meets and wins over numerous locals due to his gregarious personality and determination. However, he encounters numerous challenges while driving up to Utah, and needs everything to go right in order to make a positive impression. Can Burt’s unflappable nature withstand unforeseen obstacles?

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The World’s Fastest Indian is a delightful experience. Perfectly-paced and very entertaining, the movie is anchored by Hopkins’s brilliant performance as Burt Munro. Right off the bat, Munro is a guy that we want to cheer for, and the film shows the instant impact that the courageous New Zealander had on everyone he met. The fact that Burt goes over 200 miles per hour on his bike seems almost like an added bonus due to his decency and generosity.

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Kiwi director Roger Donaldson had previously helmed a short documentary about Munro in 1971 and had long desired to make a feature film about him as well. Donaldson was also fortunate to have a relationship with Hopkins, whom he had directed previously in the 1985 version of The Bounty.  Hopkins later recalled that Munro was one of the easiest characters he had ever played, given that their lives resemble each other.

While some aspects of the film are fictionalized, Donaldson elected to go for a sense of realism as much as possible, shooting many scenes on location in Invercargill and using some of Munro’s own tools as props (at the time, most were still on display at Invercargill’s Southland Museum). The movie also shows some of the health issues that Munro experienced — including angina, which led to his eventual death from a stroke in January 1978.

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Upon its release in 2005, The World’s Fastest Indian broke box office records in New Zealand and received hefty critical acclaim as well. Critic Peter Calder of the New Zealand Herald expressed his annoyance that Hopkins, a Welshman, didn’t attempt the “Southland burr” — the Scottish-inspired drawl that is unique to Invercargill — but otherwise loved the movie. “Hopkins gives a generous, genial and utterly approachable performance … he nails the backyard eccentric genius dead centre. He has inhaled the nature of a mid-century Kiwi bloody good bloke and he inhabits the part to perfection.”

Beautifully shot and very well-acted, The World’s Fastest Indian is a fun and spirited adventure. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

  • Written and directed by Roger Donaldson
  • Produced by Roger Donaldson and Gary Hannam
  • Starring Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Murphy, Tessa Mitchell, Iain Rea, Annie Whittle, Greg Johnson, Kate Sullivan, Antony Starr
  • Director of Photography — David Gribble
  • Music by J. Peter Robinson
  • Edited by John Gilbert
  • Rated PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference
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