The title suggests the unfortunate prospect of a Cool Runnings set in Bombay but, thankfully, this is misleading. The Indian in question is a 1920s make of motorbike and The World’s Fastest Indian is the story is of the 73-year-old man who rides it.
Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a native of Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand, and a man who has always had a passion for speed. He’s spent his life tinkering with his beloved Indian Twin Scout and, after years of making and remaking his own parts, he believes he might just have built the fastest bike in the world.
The problem is he has no way to prove it. For a quarter of a century he has dreamt of going to the Bonneville Speedway in Utah to find out how fast it actually goes, but has never quite managed to scrape together the money. However, when he discovers he has angina, and may not have that long left to live, he decides to take a loan out on his house and finally set off half way around the world in search of his dream.
It’s based on a true story, the kind that is almost begging for a movie to be made out of it, and it seems strange that it has taken almost 40 years to come. It’s also a relief that it ended up in the hands of someone who actually cared about it. Writer/director Roger Donaldson met the real Burt Munro whilst a young filmmaker working on a documentary, Offerings to the God of Speed, and had been toying with the idea of a movie adaptation ever since.
Donaldson’s career has not exactly been littered with triumphs (Species, Cocktail, Dante’s Peak, to name a few, though he also directed The Bounty and Rob Roy) and it was always possible that he’d make a complete hash of this one. He hasn’t, and this is to his credit.
The sugary premise is never overplayed, and even if Hopkins is forced to warble on to everyone he meets about the merits of pursuing ones dreams this doesn’t begin to irritate. A perfectly pitched cast of extras drawn from a cross section of 1960s America add some nice comic touches, and Hopkins plays his role so well that even the hardest of cynics will warm to him. As he cheerfully mumbles ‘alright’ at all the various setbacks he encounters I certainly did and, by the end, I was desperate to see him ride his bike.
Even if you know what’s going to happen, the finale grips with a tension that most thrillers can only dream about, largely because you can actually believe in the guy.
A humorous, nicely paced, heart-warming movie, this would have been the feel good hit of the summer were it not being released in March. As it is, The World’s Fastest Indian is bound to brighten up your spring.