Monday, July 03, 2006

The World's Fastest Indian

The World''s Fastest IndianAnthony Hopkins says that The World's Fastest Indian, out on DVD today (Monday), is the best thing he's done. The man's made over 100 movies in 50 years, so even if one ignores the fact that he's coasted along on auto-pilot for many of his most recent films, that's quite an impressive claim.

It's also an odd claim, given that the critics were very luke-warm when the film received a theatrical release a few months back, albeit a claim that appears to have been revived with the more enthusiastic reviews that have appeared with the release of the DVD. I don't get this constant revision of history - the most recent extreme example being Terence Malik's The New World, which was slated on limited theatrical release, but has (rightly in my view) garnered rave reviews on DVD release. So where does this leave The World's Fastest Indian in reality? Well at the moment it has an average score of 8.0 on imdb - that's one heck of a high mark for a film that scored barely a blip on the film critics' radar when released in cinemas.

The film title is somewhat confusing - Antony Hopkins ISN'T playing an Indian (although he does meet one on his travels) - the indian referred to is a motorcycle manufacturer. The movie tells the story of New Zealander Burt Munro's obsession with his motorbike and his road trip to America to attempt the under 1000cc land speed record in 1967 (a record he still holds today).

On paper the script doesn't work - the pacing is all over the place, the 'kindness of strangers' element is so frequent and out-of-wack with the real world that it's hard to take seriously, the characters are cliched - we get a 'heart of gold' drag queen, a kind Indian, a lonely widower and a demotivated Vietnam vet as Monro's various friends encountered on his road trip - and the schmaltz factor is ramped up way above any sort of sensible level. But somehow the film rises above all of this, gladdens the heart, and leaves one feeling up when it finally finishes, more than two hours after it started. It may be old-fashioned, some would say quaint, and it reminded me very much of an Australian movie from a few years back called The Dish, but it's saved from being 'merely average' by an incredible acting performance from Anthony Hopkins. And it's a long time since one could honestly use the word 'incredible' to describe his work in movies.

I enjoyed this movie of a different time and a different world (although I'd accept that New Zealand probably still has that same sense of rural good manners and community today), and I think you will too. The quality of the transfer is top notch, and the 37 minute featurette has some interesting interviews too, even if too many of those interviewed are so over-the-top in their gushing I found myself looking for the sick bowl!

I wouldn't give the film that very high 8.0 rating that more than 3000 imdb voters have given it, but it's certainly worth a 7 out of 10 in my book. And it's safe for all the family too - no mean achievement in this day and age!

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