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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Anthony Hopkins, Chris Lawford, Chris Williams, Diane Ladd
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Roger Donaldson
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
127 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Magnolia
 "The World's Fastest Indian" Review 
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I was dreading this film. I'd seen the trailer for "The World's Fastest Indian" several times prior to other recent films. Each time I would see it I would stare at the screen, cringe, and think "Man, that looks awful."

Even the name, "The World's Fastest Indian", is absolutely dreadful. I mean, seriously, what could that possibly mean anyway? I knew that Anthony Hopkins had the lead role, and he's sure not an Indian. He didn't even look like an Indian in the trailer. The trailer made no sense, was edited badly, and sure seemed to have some boring lines.

Sure, I'd read the interviews with star Anthony Hopkins. He called this his favorite film experience in years but, hey, stars always say that kind of thing when they're promoting a film. I had his statement in mind the last time I watched the trailer, and I just shook my head with amazement. How could this be his favorite film experience in recent years?

I was relieved when Jacob agreed to review the film for "IndependentCritics.com," because that meant I could wait for the DVD to check it out.

Oops.

Then, the unexpected happened (doesn't it always?). I actually won tickets to an advanced showing at Indy's Keystone Art Cinema and, reluctantly, I said "Jacob, I suppose it makes sense for me to review it now." He agreed, and here I am.

I admit it. I was wrong.

"The World's Fastest Indian" is an entertaining, heartwarming, and inspiring film starring Anthony Hopkins as you've never seen him before. As Burt Munro, a New Zealander long obsessed with things that go fast. Burt dreams of going to Bonneville's Salt Flats in Utah for Speed Week with his 1920 Indian motorcycle to attempt to break the land speed record in his class.

The journey from New Zealand to Utah is an unrealistic one for the aging Burt, a real life speedster who made his first trip to Bonneville in his mid-60's in 1963. Burt's hometown of Inver Cargill held a fund-raiser in his honor and, after being diagnozed with arteriosclerosis, Burt mortgaged his property to make the trip.

"The World's Fastest Indian" starts off feeling like a spirited "Waking Ned Devine," with its cultural flavor, smalltown feeling, and community camaraderie. As he begins his journey, the film becomes a fish-out-of-water story crossed with a sort of "Straight Story" feeling to it. Time after time after time Burt's gentle spirit and straightforward presentation combine to win over his cynics and, ultimately, keep him protected during a wide variety of challenging circumstances ranging from staying in a sleazy motel on Sunset Boulevard to a road breakdown as he journeys towards Utah to a chance encounter with a Randy but helpful woman after his trailer breaks yet again.

"The World's Fastest Indian" will not work for some of you. It requires abandon...abandon of intellect, reason, cynicism and logic. It requires the sort of abandon that needed to happen to fully embrace a film such as "The Straight Story," for example. It is a simple, straightforward, and eternally optimistic film.

Anthony Hopkins is a brilliant actor. I believe most of us accept this as a basic cinematic truth. Sure, he's had his share of flops and weird choices, however, the man can act. This is a different Anthony Hopkins than you've seen, and he's openly acknowledged that's why he set out looking for a different kind of role.

Sir Anthony can do the professional acting gig quite nicely. He's made a career out of respectable, dignified performances. Likewise, he can go "out there" and pull off characters that are, for lack of a better term, "off the hook (such as Hannibal Lecter)." What Hopkins hasn't done, at least not to my memory, is perform an "everyday" role...a man who could be you or I...a man of great simplicity, of true working class. "Burt Munro" is such a man, and yet in the hands of an actor such as Hopkins Munro comes to live with a complexity, a depth that transforms what could have easily been a Disney "heart tug of the week" flick into an immensely entertaining and emotionally bonding experience.

Hopkins' Burt is a man who changes lives merely by being in them. From the young boy, Tom, who lives next door in New Zealand, to the women he charms along his journey and the racing crowd he ultimately wins over Hopkins' Burt is a man who is balanced both with tremendous character flaws and yet unshakeable spirit. It's sad that this film will likely go unrewarded as it is, without a doubt, Hopkins' finest performance in recent years.

"The World's Fastest Indian" is clearly centered around Hopkins, however, the supporting cast performances nicely including Aaron Murphy as young Tom, Diane Ladd as the Randy but helpful woman, Christopher Lawford as fellow racer Jimmy Moffett, Chris Williams as Tina, a cross-dressing motel clerk, and Paul Rodriguez as a car dealer Burt meets along the way.

In many ways, "The World's Fastest Indian" is one of those films that I'm always challenged to review. It is a film I enjoyed immensely, but must acknowledge has significant flaws. The script, penned by director Roger Davidson ("Cocktail," "Species" and "The Recruit") is amazingly simple and drags during the middle third. The journey begins to resemble that in "The Brown Bunny," but every time it looked like Davidson had perhaps wandered too far he reins it back in and brought the film back to life.

Likewise, similar to Disney's "Glory Road," there was a bit of fudging with the dates here as Munro didn't break the land speed record until 1967. Of course, unlike "Glory Road," most of the facts and events here are true or minimally based upon true events. There were at least a couple occasions where Hopkins' accent seemed to waver a bit, however, it was largely consistent and believable. This was similar to my experience with the film's score, which occasionally seemed a touch intrusive but generally accompanied the scenery quite nicely.

Perhaps most powerful of all was to watch Hopkins, the man of great dignity and respect, put himself so completely into this role physically and emotionally. Without the overt exhibitionism of a film such as "Something's Gotta Give," Hopkins shared intimately the process of growing older but refusing to grow old. He shows the physical repercussions, the aches, the pains, the scars, the emotions and the wounds with an honesty that had me physically aching, as well. It was a brave, yet stunningly simple and wonderful performance.

"The World's Fastest Indian" is not the best film you will see this year. It is, however, a film worth seeing. It is, in essence, the story of one man's spiritual journey and the manifestation of his dreams. It features the finest, and most unique, performance by Anthony Hopkins in years and will leave you smiling long after you leave the theatre.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
    The Official Rating Guideline
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