Outstanding crowd-pleaser about a crusty old character named Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), a poor tinkerer and motorcycle enthusiast in Invercargill, New Zealand, who in 1962, at the tender age of 63, made the perilous trek from his small town home to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to participate in the annual Speed Week, where car racers gather to break records
This slightly fictionalized account of Burt's journey plays out like David Lynch's The Straight Story on amphetamines: old-timer, apparently not long for the world, sets out on an epic quest while encountering locals along the way and sharing his wit and wisdom with them. Only instead of a tractor puttering along the highway at three miles per hour, he's got a machine that can go sixty times as fast! The World's Fastest Indian lacks Lynch's distinctive artistry, of course, but for Kiwi director Roger Donaldson, long a competent director of Hollywood programmers, it's clearly a labor of love.
The same could be said for Hopkins, who is more likable here than he has been in anything he's ever done. It's among his best work. His Burt Munro is passionate yet low-key, single-minded yet effortlessly congenial. The story manages to create suspense over whether old Burt will even make it out of Bonneville alive, much less break any land speed records in his old souped-up motorcycle (a 1920 Indian Scout – hence the title). Yet at the same time, there is a nice ambling quality to the film, with Donaldson taking time to stop and smell the roses, as it were, which we can presume Burt Munro liked to do too.
The World's Fastest Indian is the sort of movie you can take your granny to, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it as much as she will. Only the score, by J. Peter Robinson, pushes the film into mawkishness at times. But Hopkins and Donaldson (who also wrote the script) play it straight, telling a simple, joyous story of a simple, joyous man who above all loved life. This would make a fine double feature with another Down Under "feel good" movie, the similarly under-promoted The Dish.