The World’s Fastest Indian
starring Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Aaron Murphy, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell, Tim Shadbolt, Annie Whittle and Anthony Starr
written and directed by Roger Donaldson
This is the true story of New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast Burt Munro who, in 1967 set a motorcycle land speed world record at the salt flats racing ground in Utah using his jury-rigged 1920 Scout Indian motorbike. His speed record remains unbroken today. It is a great acting job by Anthony Hopkins but, frankly, this portrayal of a New Zealand gentleman with quaint manners who journeyed to Utahand succeeded just by the force of his will and his dream - which is supposed to be an inspiring story about Man’s spirit overcoming the odds - is remarkably uninspiring for me. Burt Munro was a nut who succeeded by sheer luck and the charitable indulgence of strangers more than by his own skill and competence. If anything, he was dangerously incompetent because, in a strict British cultural vein, he represented the epitome of low-budget amateurism up against the corporate sponsored, professional Americans. The charitable indulgence of strangers he encountered along the way is the only thing that prevented Munro from accidentally killing himself. And this is why I dislike the film and the story. It is because I revere the virtue of independence above the vice of dependence. Burt Munro was too amateur and too bungling to be competently independent. In his favor, he was a respectable mechanic and a natural engineer who kept his antique motorcycle going using hand-made parts plus bits and pieces from around his home welded into place, but the fact that he succeeded in such a way that his record endures today still fails to fill me with admiration. Burt Munro’s story is positively under-whelming.
He raced with a heart condition, without proper equipment, and even without a mechanically sound, properly maintained machine: stress fractures in all the metal parts; home-made tires; no fire-resistant safety suit, gloves, boots, goggles or helmet. He even lacked a registration number when he arrived at the racing grounds because he didn’t know he had to register to compete. But he wins people over with his quaint New Zealand charms and grandfatherly manner. In fact, “Gramps”seems to be an appropriate cachet for him. He represents the veracity of the maxim that ignorance is bliss, and his naivety might have been appealing in the 1960s but it doesn’t foster respect today. But I could be wrong.
Maybe you will like this story of an eccentric old man, but I didn’t.