The World's Fastest Indian

Dir: Roger Donaldson
Star: Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Murphy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Chris Williams

If occasionally straying into the realm of cloying sentimentality, this is not so bad overall, a stirring, (mostly) true tale of ingenuity, perserverance and, you could say, a little stupidity. Burt Morgan (Hopkins) has a mostly home-built motorcycle in his Invercargill, New Zealand garden shed - about as far south as you can go without meeting penguins - but dreams of racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and finding out just how fast it is. Not easy, this being the 1960's, and no-one else believing in his goal, most of the townsfolk viewing him as a likeable old loon. Undaunted, he mortgages his home and heads off, earning his passage on a tramp steamer and arriving in Los Angeles, half a world away from Invercargill, in more ways than one. And there was me thinking this was about an athletic native American.

My main problem was that just about everyone he meets is incredibly nice, even the local bike gang, who end up giving him money for the trip. The only real exception is about five minutes in LA, with a cab-driver who is somewhat rude. Even in a kindler, gentler time, it's just not plausible, and his journey from New Zealand to Utah is over-stretched and the least interesting part of the film. After his arrival in Bonneville, however, things perk up, as he has to try and overcome technical and bureaucratic issues, before being allowed to make his run. By the end, you'll be admiring his ingenuity, perserverance, and even his stupidity. Hopkins is right at the heart of things, with a grand performance, turning Morgan into the kind of slightly-disreputable uncle everyone wants to have. He's certainly not your typical action hero, and the movie is all the better and more unique for that.

[October 2008]

The silence of the pistons
See also...
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