Burt Munro is a sixty-something man who works 9 months and 9 days of the year, pausing only for three hours on Christmas day. His prized possession is a 1920 T Indian Motorcycle, which has been fine tuned over many years. The end result is a machine which reaches speeds far greater than any model like it. In The World’s Fastest Indian we follow his attempt to set a land speed record with an ‘under 1000 cc’ engine.
So much ingenuity flows out of Burt. Anthony Hopkins does a fine job diving into the quirky, quiescent nature of the Invercargill native. Inside his workshop are all types of cast iron mouldings, screws, spanners and what not; most of it made by Munro. Sometimes it is hard to envision somebody working so doggedly within such an enclosed environment to achieve a single goal. But it actually was a real place. Incredible! Munro believes the time is right to attempt a land speed record at the Boneville salt flats and takes out a mortgage on his house as collateral for the trip.
People really warm to Burt; sometimes a bit to much for it to be convincing. A group of motorcyclists who chide him early on in the film (at a race on the Invercargill beach) later return and give him some beer money. A transgender motel clerk warms up very quickly to his blunt, gregarious nature. Same too with Fernando, the used car salesman and a Native American.
Munro manages to eventually find his way to the Boneville salt flats and befriends Jim Moffiet, a top driver who persuades the race organisers to waive the registration and safety requirements normally required, and allow Munro to just go for it.
Recreating 1960’s New Zealand against 1960’s USA, exemplifies the stark gap in development. Kiwis were driving around in older cars, ate takeaway meals as a treat and had a “she’ll be right mate” safety approach. Americans were driving large cars on the right hand side of the road, went to diners which had menus with pictures and took personal safety seriously. Hopkin’s acting is so accurate that one can envision But’s sense of surprise and wonder, at experiencing something like that for the first time. When the Indian was having a safety check, race organisers could only stare in shock. No race parachute. A cork on his gas tank. Seriously? What about a fire suit? Burt thinks it unnecessary as he doesn’t plan to burn up. In a significant way, this motorcycle is a lot like his lover and Burt can’t see why the old girl would want to hurt him, instead, he believes she wants to help him achieve his goal.
The impressive long shot Indian motorcycle became something of a novelty during the record attempt, appearing every time director Roger Donaldson wants to reassure us that eventually we will hopefully see Munro achieve the record. However, few shots actually send a thrill or a tingle of excitement. Most of that comes from a well assembled cast and crew, who carry a slightly unbelievable script well beyond average.
That can be forgiven though. The World’s Fastest Indian will inspire and entertain all types of audiences in generations to come.