| The Red Right Hand
THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN
For nearly thirty years, Roger Donaldson's CV has been littered with examples of quality film-making; oddly enough it's taken him the same length of time to get this dream project finally made. The World's Fastest Indian is his fifteenth movie and second outing with Anthony Hopkins (who previously starred in Donaldson's The Bounty), it tells the tale of a New Zealand-born bike enthusiast who attempted to break the land speed record for a 1000cc motorbike in the early sixties. Just to clear the air here, the 'Indian' is neither a Native American nor a fast-paced restaurant owner named Patel, it is in fact a motorbike from the 1920's. The opening shots reveal a quiet rural part of New Zealand, Invercargill - clearly trying to find a location not recognisable as Middle Earth - the camera slowly pans around a small brick shed. Assorted photographs and newspaper clippings of years long gone cover the dark workshop walls. A shelf of scrapped parts stand proudly above a hand-painted plaque that reads: Offerings To The God Of Speed. The camera slows and we narrow in on the man himself, Burt Munro [Hopkins], sleeping no more than three feet from his motorcycle. As the alarm rings, Burt opens his eyes, sits up and stares straight through to the audience; followed by a quick-cut to the salt deserts of Utah, the camera racing toward a stationary figure - Burt. This symbolises that the first thing on Burt's mind, from the moment he wakes, is getting to America to speed-test his bike. After a series of mildly entertaining events, Burt discovers he has angina, for which he is prescribed nitrate pills. Feeling death breathing down his neck, Burt decides to take out a loan in order to get to Utah.
Here we are, forty minutes in to the film and Burt starts on his journey to America via boat. Luckily for us, the weeks it would take him to sail there pass in moments. As Burt steps off the boat and into a Californian customs office, we are lead to believe that the tale will now take off - showing the troubles a Kiwi would have in the states. No such luck. He gets taken to one side and questioned with regards to a few of the answers he gave at customs - rather than shot-on-sight as he would have by a modern customs agent - but is smiled at calmly and told 'it sounds like we should be honoured to have you here in the United States, Mr. Munro.'
I'm going to share something with you now, dear reader, and it's going to spoil the rest of the film, so if you must, continue on to the next paragraph; the greatest shortcoming to this film is the childish nature of it all. It's blatantly obvious that Donaldson idolises this man so much that he can find no fault (and therefore no believability or realism) in him. He's exuberant, friendly, kind and manages to charm everyone he meets into getting his own way - truly he is the devil! Having said that this film is based in the sixties - a time of kindness and free love - and considering he ventured out alone Mr. Munro could have easily altered a few details in his favour. On Munro's journey he happens across a few key characters. The first is the little boy living next door, Tom [Murphy] - inquisitive and keen to learn from Munro's exploits. On arrival in America, Munro finds himself in a seedy motel befriending the lady/man at the counter, Tina [Williams], who offers help whenever he/she can - the reason I'm so indecisive as to gender is simply because he/she refers to being both on separate occasions, so I'm not sure how to word it, ah well. Diane Ladd plays Ada, a widow living in a broken-down shack who helps Munro fix his hand-made trailer... and then spend the night together. The list goes on but the problem is that they all seem so nice, helpful and polite. Now, either Tobe Hooper [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] or Roger Donaldson is lying to us here; travelling through the desert states, do you get laid of killed? We, the public, need to know!
But enough of such cynical nonsense! The characters Munro meets on his journey, the people he touched and the lives he affected with his kind, simple manner and blind determination are a thing rarely seen in modern cinema; a welcome treat and truly entertaining, wholesome family fun - pause for personal disgust at use of words 'wholesome family fun' - pause over.
10th March 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
With his modified bike, Munro races through the desert, this is his final attempt to make the record. We all know what's at stake and how much this means to everyone who's rooting for Munro but being the kind of film this is one of the characters, Jim [Lawford] still has to hold fist up and announce, "He's going over 150mph! He's got no parachute, he's got no brakes!" - something that was established not four minutes beforehand.
Anthony Hopkins has clearly picked this film to prove he's not some old-fogy who is limited to armchair roles, that he can still play to the audience with as much physical vigour as any of his fellow actors out there in movie-land. An attribute similar to that of Burt Munro, himself, so it's no wonder he pulls the character off with such ease.
"Ever since I was a lad I've been interested in things that go fast"
In A Few Words:
"Entertaining family film with a terrific performance by Hopkins but far too convenient for me to enjoy myself"