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Mon February 13, 2006
The World's Fastest Indian
Sir Anthony Hopkins is worth every million he makes.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"I might be a bit deaf, but I'm not stupid." Burt Munro
Most seniors Burt Munro's age are worried if the government will revoke their drivers' licenses. Burt Munro's biggest concern is how to get himself and his 1920 Indian Motorcycle from New Zealand to Utah's salt flats for world land speed competition. That he gets there in 1967 and sets a record yet to be broken, over 200 miles per hour, is a fact most viewers know before the film starts, thanks to The World's Fastest Indian publicity at the recent Super Bowl and general knowledge about the best's in history with this one a least known entry.
Director Roger Donaldson's challenge, then, is to make Burt's character believable, loveable, and vulnerable to achieve a dramatic effect strong enough to overcome the lost surprise hook so necessary for most adventure stories. So he hires A-list actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is worth every million he makes by making us love his absent-minded, strong-willed racer with an accent seemingly perfect for a character not from London but from down under. Only David Lynch's "Straight Story" could compete for pulling a winner film out of an old man's random encounters on a slow-moving road trip.
Hopkins eschews flourishes of emotion and language to draw the audience into Burt's world of home-made pistons, pissing in the garden, and old-fogy lovemaking cradled in homespun aphorisms and clich?s to be enjoyed from an historical overachiever who has lived more fully than almost anyone else he meets. Hopkins plays Burt loopy but brilliant and old but ambitious. Damned if Hopkins doesn't make an essentially slow picaresque seem just as fast as the record looming over Bonneville Salt Flats.
The film's disadvantage is that this down home wisdom and semi-eccentric behavior sometimes seem contrived and at other times a little banal. Lucky for everyone Hopkins' blue eyes are never dull nor is his instinct to make Munro interesting even if he were not. Overall the film is successful in showing that breaking the rules should be on everyone's to-do list, especially if adventure appears an appropriate antidote to the weight of time, whose daily dose of reality seems to neuter most of the aging population.
"Be wise with speed;
A fool at forty is a fool indeed."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com