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For 25 years in Invercargill at the south end of New Zealand, Burt Munro (1899-1978) has been working on increasing the speed of his motorcycle, a 1920 Indian. He dreams of taking it to the Bonneville Salt Flats to see how fast it will go. By the early 1960s, heart disease threatens his life, so he mortgages his house and takes a boat to Los Angeles, buys an old car, builds a makeshift trailer, gets the Indian through customs, and heads for Utah. Along the way, people he meets are charmed by his open, direct friendliness. If he makes it to Bonneville, will they let an old guy on the flats with makeshift tires, no brakes, and no chute? And will the Indian actually respond? Written by
'The World's Fastest Indian' is a unique movie that not only provides a film that New Zealanders anywhere can be most proud of, while at the same time contemplating universal themes that everyone outside the borders of the country can relate to.
The film contains that familiar 'Number 8 fencing wire' mentality that resonates throughout New Zealand society - and also echoes those tropes of masculinity that are so prominent within the National cinema: Burt tinkers with his 1920 Indian Motorcycle with the most unexpected results, using common household objects; he travels to the Bonneville Saltflats in Utah alone, getting by on his wit; and has that dry sense of humour that is familiar around these parts. It also contains the familiar 'man Alone' motif, but in a foreign country, and also touches on that other image of New Zealand men tinkering in their sheds. The film is, what I would call, blatantly Kiwi.
Wider themes that surface are of isolation, alienation, and beating the odds to achieve your dream. What I can definitely say about 'The World's Fastest Indian', is that it's very refreshing - this is no typical underdog story; it's a story that proves that you're never too old to follow through with a dream you've had for years. It was great to have a protagonist that was older than the usual one in contemporary movies, and seemed to give the film more of an anchoring in reality. It makes it far more easier to believe in the story and it's motivations, and heightens the sense of isolation one sometimes goes through when following your heart.
Sir Anthony Hopkins does an amazing job as Burt Munro - the New Zealand accent is impeccable, aside from one or two vowel sounds. His subtleties communicate an intense psychological battle and determination to get the chance to achieve his dream, and his typical sense of humour is wonderful. I'm not sure how accurate this portrayal of Burt Munro is, but the screen character is engaging and pulls the audience in for a solid 2 hours as we watch Burt battle with his demons, and the lack of people's belief in his achieving his goal.
All in all, 'The World's Fastest Indian' is a fantastic film that New Zealanders can be proud of, soaked with Kiwi humour and a character that will remind a lot of us of our grandfathers and that older generation that never complained and got on with life, no matter what they were up against. For international audiences, it's a wonderful underdog story about an older man who had never given up on getting his chance to achieve his dream.
'The World's Fastest Indian' is a fantastic film, and will inspire anyone who gets the chance to see it. Roger Donaldson continues his fine tradition of great movies, and all Kiwis should hold him up to the same heights as they do that other Jackson fulla!
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