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Before I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought The World's Fastest Indian was some kind of sequel to The Fast Runner which was about a fast-running Inuit in Canada's north. But as soon as I saw the trailer, I really wanted to see The World's Fastest Indian. It was one of those trailers that I liked so much, I watched it over and over again. When I love the trailer like this, often the movie itself has a hard time living up to it. But there were no worries here. The World's Fastest Indian is a fun feel-good movie. It tells the story of Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) who set a land-speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats for a streamlined motorcycle of less than 1000cc of 183.58 mph. It's amazing enough that this record is unbroken to this day, but in 1967, when he set the record, Munro was 68 years old and was riding a 1920 Indian motorcycle. To say that Munro was obsessed with this motorcycle and with making it go fast, is an understatement. He bought the motorcycle new in 1920 and in 1926 started making modifications, which he continued until his death in 1977. Munro himself said, "For 10 years I worked 16 hours a day in the shed and was told to slow up a few years ago and now work 7 days and about 70 hours a week." He traveled to Bonneville several times starting in 1962 to go for the record.
The new film, The World's Fastest Indian, is a compressed version of Munro's odyssey which makes it seem like all of his travels and adventures take place in one year. When we first see Munro, he is living in a little town in New Zealand dreaming of taking his motorcycle to Bonneville. With the help of his friends and the boy next door (Aaron Murphy), Munro raises enough money to travel by boat to America with his motorcycle in a crate. Once he lands in Los Angeles, he suffers from severe culture shock but he is helped out by a kindly transvestite (Chris Williams). Eventually, Munro travels to Bonneville having many adventures along the way, including comforting a lonely widow (Diane Ladd). Finally, he reaches Bonneville only to find out that he has missed the registration deadline for Speed Week. Luckily, the judges (Bruce Greenwood et al.) relent when another driver (Chris Lawford ) intervenes. And, well, the rest is history.
Like other biopics, the director/screenwriter, Roger Donaldson, takes liberties with the actual events of Burt Munro's life. Time and space are telescoped for dramatic effect. Facts are changed such as the record speed, 201 mph in the movie, 183 mph in reality, and also Munro's personal history. For example, in the film he says that his twin brother was killed by a falling tree. In real life, he had a twin sister who was stillborn. But from what I've read, The World's Fastest Indian does a good job of capturing the essence of Burt Munro. And it's a great underdog story. Anthony Hopkins can do any part, but here he is doing a character who is a little bit different from his usual diet of serious complicated roles such as in Proof, The Human Stain or Silence of the Lambs. Burt Munro is uncomplicated and almost boring. He just wants to go fast. Hopkins does a great job playing Munro, which is a good thing because this movie is all about Burt Munro. The rest of the roles are pretty minor, and people come and go fast as Munro continues on his magical mystery tour halfway across the world. But it is nice to see Diane Ladd. There are no surprises in The World's Fastest Indian and the happy ending is inevitable but it's very fun to watch.