Dir/scr: Roger Donaldson.NZ. 2005. 127mins.
The latest RogerDonaldson is a natural born winner through and through. An inspiring real lifestory of a man who dared in his late sixties not only to dream but to go on andaccomplish his dreams against all odds, The World's Fastest Indian hasall the hallmarks of a popular formula played fully to the hilt.
Easily one of the morelikeable road movies to come along in some time, Donaldson's picture followsits protagonist, Burt Munro from an obscure little New Zealand town to the saltflatbeds of Utah where he successfully beats world speed records on his45-year-old motorcycle.
It also provides an idealvehicle for the larger-than-life talents of Anthony Hopkins, who obviously enjoysevery minute of his performance.
As such The World'sFastest Indian should have no problem scoring everywhere around the globe,mainly as family entertainment but also for adult audiences who will delight inits simple, straightforward humanity and the gentle, single-mindeddetermination of its hero, who comes across as an heir to Alvin Straight inDavid Lynch's The Straight Story.
After playing at Toronto it closes San Sebastian later this week: sales includeMagnolia (US), Icon (UK), Dendy (Australia), Alta Films (Spain) and IIF(Italy).
Donaldson has doggedlypursued the exploits of Munro (who died in 1978) for more than three decades,having made a documentary - Offerings To The God Of Speed - on the samesubject in 1971. At home Munro is one of New Zealand's national heroes and arare examples of stubborn perseverance paying off despite all appearances.
His dream of being thefastest man alive - at least on his favoured machine - looks almost absurd intoday's technological age of sports, which requires millions for the slightestachievement. And yet it happened.
We meet Munro (Hopkins) inthe 1960s, when he is retried and living in his own garage, next to the screws,bolts, pipes and exhausts that he is so familiar with. From the off he islively, exuberant, gruff but happy, an authentic original in every sense of theword. 'If you do not live up to your dreams, you might as well be avegetable' he explains to the little kid next door, who looks up to himdespite his parents' disapproval.
To prove it, he devotes allhis time to upgrading his venerable Indian Scout 1920 motorcycle, hoping thatone day he will have the chance to take it all the way to the renowned saltflatbeds of Utah, where all the great speed records are set.
But at home everybody knowshim and likes him as a loveable eccentric beyond redemption, weaving his ownhomespun philosophy of life ('man is like a blade of grass''),sometimes annoying when he revs up his bike in the early morning hours,neglects his courtyard or pees on his lemon tree.
Encouraged by the localsocial security lady - who also happens to be his occasional bed partner - hepays for passage to America at an age when others would mostly be concernedwith the movement of their bowels. Not even a heart condition can stop him.
The trip covers the centralsection of the film, taking Munro from one cheerful, sympathetic character toanother, most of them asking for nothing better than to assist him on his way.
Like all road movies, it isessentially a series of encounters; that they are never less than pleasant onlyreflects the positive aspect of Munro himself, who sees no evil in othersbecause there is no evil or deceit in himself.
Once on the Bonneville SaltFlats, Munro finds the other racers to be surprisingly supportive, helping himnot only persuade the authorities to let him race - despite his lateregistration - but also put the last improvised touches to his ramshacklevehicle.
Donaldson, working from hisown screenplay, adheres to the spirit of his character throughout, and whilethe story may be true, only ever presents the glass as half-full, neverhalf-empty.
Hopkins, who worked withDonaldson more than 20 years ago on The Bounty, tackles the character ofMunro with relaxed ease, never taking one wrong step and displaying the kind ofunselfconsciousness all too rare for him.
Seeing old Hannibal Lecterlaunch into a joyful jig when he is finally told he can race after all issimple spontaneous pleasure and a pleasure to behold.
The world may not be likethis any more. Maybe it never was. Who cares' At least it's nice to believe init, if only for a couple of hours.
New Zealand Film Production Fund
New Zealand Film Commission
3 Dogs & A Pony
New Zealand Film
Barrie M Osborne