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The World’s Fastest Indian (8/10)

by Tony Medley

December was a tough month in the movie critic business. Not only did we have to sit through Terence Malick’s “The New World,” we also were subjected to “The Family Stone,” an exercise in left wing, secular morality if ever there was one. Although there were some good movies, these two, and some others, were bad enough to leave a deep scar on the psyche.

So I warned my guest that if “The World’s Fastest Indian,” which ran six minutes over two hours, was a long, boring work, we would be beating a quick exit. It was OK with her because she had been forced to endure much of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” with me, also in December.

Much to our surprise, this is a terrific, winning movie. Contrary to what the title may imply, it is not about Jim Thorpe or any other Native American. The “Indian” of the title is a 1920 motorcycle that has been lovingly preserved by New Zealander Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins). Burt is a basically destitute veteran living in a shack in a nice neighborhood in Invercargill, New Zealand, the bottom of the world. His lifelong passion has been to clock his bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. At the age of 68, in 1963 he has only $1,200 to his name, so he takes a loan out on his “house,” hops on a tramp steamer and works his way to America as a cook.

What makes this film so winning is an extraordinary performance by Hopkins. Burt is such an ingenuous, likeable kiwi that everyone with whom he comes in contact loves him and wants to help him, even though his task is worse than Herculean. Once he arrives at the Salt Flats, his problems are just beginning.

I think that the title is going to work against this film because it is so misleading. “From Here to Eternity,” it is not. The people who go to see it will be rewarded by a heartwarming, highly entertaining, feel good movie with a performance by Hopkins that won’t soon be forgotten.

January 7, 2006