Writer/director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days) comes full circle on the subject of his 1971 documentary Offerings to the God of Speed, about Bert Munro the elderly New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast who took his modified 1920 Indian Scout to the Bonneville Salt Flats to break speed records. Anthony Hopkins teams up with Roger Donaldson for the first time since their work on The Bounty (1984) and gives an impassioned performance as Munro that sits snugly against the actor’s canon of brilliant character studies. Hopkins transports a simple story about an aging man with an ageless dream into the stuff of legend.
The World’s Fastest Indian exists in a hermetic bubble of wide-eyed school boy charm that Roger Donaldson projects with fastidious attention to Bert’s deep-rooted relationship with his vintage motorcycle. From the opening scene of Bert revving his bike’s earsplitting engine to the dismay of his sleeping neighbors, Donaldson establishes Bert’s idiosyncratic passion and understated fierceness.
The linear road story that follows serves as a steady but permutating rhythm over which Hopkins embellishes his role with subtle nuance and gentle charisma. As we learn more about Bert’s distinctive nature, the movie gains dramatic weight as a narrative about fulfilling dreams regardless of one’s age.
Bert’s most loyal believer is a young New Zealand neighbor boy (Aaron Murphy) who shares Bert’s contagious brand of youthful excitement for the mysteries of motorcycle mechanics. Bert’s endearing nature attracts strangers to help him along the way on his quest to test the limitations of his personally modified motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats. From the ship’s captain who ferries Bert and his bike to America in exchange for Bert’s cooking, to a transvestite motel clerk in Hollywood, to the genial racers at Bonneville who make sure Bert gets his big chance, the audience is pulled into the magnetic sphere that Hopkins projects.
Anthony Hopkins has said that he will not return to any Silence Of The Lambs sequels, and it seems fitting that the man that London’s Old Vic Theater voted the greatest British actor of all time should choose his roles for interior aspects close to the actor’s own.
For as gratifying as it was to be scared witless by Hopkins’ unforgettable roles in horror films like Magic (1978), it is especially refreshing to see his inner light shine through the pale blue eyes of a man savoring every second of his earthbound existence. The World’s Fastest Indian keeps Anthony Hopkins in the rarified dramatic air that he belongs. MTW