By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
Anthony Hopkins clambers aboard a 1920s motorcycle for “The World’s Fastest Indian,” an old-fashioned true-life yarn about a New Zealand man who set a land-speed record.
The story happens in the 1960s, which means the bike is already an antique – but perhaps not as much as the man riding it. Burt Munro, played by Hopkins, has been tinkering with his Indian motorcycle for years, trying to work up the speed (and make the money) to trek over to America to run the thing on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
The word “Bonneville” has a magic ring to people of a certain age, as the spot where speed records and drag races were mythologized. The dried salt lake formed a perfect spot for straightaway velocity.
The opening scenes of the movie detail Munro’s life in a small New Zealand town and his ride to the U.S. on a tramp steamer. A mostly comic interlude in Los Angeles feels a little like something from a different movie.
The movie’s genial pacing takes time to include a couple of road encounters, as Munro gets mechanical help from an Indian – a Native American, not a motorcycle – and an extremely friendly single lady (Diane Ladd).
Eventually we arrive in Bonneville, where Munro’s rickety souped-up bike is initially rejected for time trials. Perhaps it’s the brandy cork stuck in the fuel tank that frightens the judges. But he wins over the locals with his gregarious Kiwi personality – or maybe they’re just as curious to see what happens as he is.
|Pleasant: A true story of New Zealand’s Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), who souped up an old Indian motorcycle and went off to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to try for a speed record. Not much sticks to the ribs here, but the film exudes affection and the Bonneville location shooting is cool.
Rated: PG-13 rating is for language, subject matter.
Now showing: Metro, Uptownon
There is not much that sticks to the ribs here, but the story seems to mean a lot to the well-traveled writer-director, Roger Donaldson, a New Zealand native. The movie exudes affection and goodwill.
The atmosphere is well-captured, without laying on the ’60s pop songs, and the location shooting at Bonneville is cool, capturing the unearthly feel of the place. Christopher Lawford (son of Peter and a member of the Kennedy clan) is uncannily right as a bemused speed racer.
Anthony Hopkins seems at first miscast – he’s such a careful and controlled actor, whereas Burt Munro is portrayed as a lovable salt of the earth. The New Zealand accent wavers, too.
But Hopkins has opened up lately, and his emotional scenes are full-on: seeing the Salt Flats for the first time, or standing at a gravesite and waxing philosophical about the finite nature of existence. Plus, he communicates the need for speed, the mysterious impulse that drives people to do crazy things really fast.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are the backdrop for “The World’s Fastest Indian.”