There is one recent film that may have fallen through the cracks and been overlooked by many racing fans. World’s Fastest Indian is one of those jewels that get made occasionally and prove why we keep going back to the theater with wide-eyed hope. If it had nothing else beyond Sir Anthony Hopkins as the star, that alone would be reason to take some time and see the film, but it’s all crafted so well that it doesn’t even matter how much they’ve played footloose with facts.
The film’s director Roger Donaldson knew the real Burt Munro back in Invercargill, New Zealand, and spent 20 years pulling together the story, elements for the film and backing to make World’s Fastest Indian. A lot of people are composites of the real personalities, some facts are conveniently lost and others a bit contrived, but in the end if you aren’t standing up and cheering for Munro’s speed run, you took a nap and missed one of the best actors ever in a nicely fashioned film.
Munro was an eccentric who took his 1920s Indian motorcycle to America in the early 1960s after being diagnosed with heart trouble and beginning to feel time catch up with him. His fish-out-of-water circumstances are charming, not least because he’s still nobody’s fool. Genial, yes. Unwilling to be treated like a daft foreigner, no. People along the way on this road trip that would make Kerouac jealous are anxious to help, and even though he is initially shut out of the Bonneville Flats speed trials, eventually Munro gets his chance. The beautifully photographed film is never better than when Munro goes down the strip. The sense of speed is exhilarating and viewers are left rooting as hard as Munro’s fans at the starting line.
It’s nice to know that there really was a Burt Munro and that he really did earn (and we do mean “earn”) several speed records, at least one of which is unlikely to ever be eclipsed. It’s even better to know that the real Munro’s children were moved to tears by Hopkins’ portrayal of a real one-of-a-kind racer. He could likely never sell any of the products on the side of today’s race cars (he doesn’t even need Viagra), but what he can sell you on is this DVD—and seeing it more than once.
Type of Racing: Speed records
Tracks: Bonneville Salt Flats; a beach in New Zealand so gorgeous it’s not hard to figure out why the New Zealand Film Commission invested in the film
Reel Racers: Anthony Hopkins; in small supporting roles, Diane Ladd, Paul Rodriguez, Bruce Greenwood, Christopher Lawford
Real Racers: None
Year of Release: 2005
DVD Length: 127 minutes
Approx. On-Track: 13 minutes
. . . The fastest official speed Munro ever clocked was 190.07 mph, not the 201.851 in the film. Munro did get up to 205.67 on a run, but crashed and the speed was never officially recorded.
. . . One of the coolest camera scans in speed-film history: a long row of broken pistons with the hand-lettered words below: Offering to the God of Speed.
. . . In the early 1960s there were almost no racing tee-shirts. But one of the characters wears an “Iskenderian Isky Cams” shirt—and that really was one of the earliest racing tee-shirts.
. . . The two porta-potties at the track are marked “His” and “His.” Another historically accurate detail.
. . . Munro is voted Sportsman of the Year and instead of a trophy the other racers pass the hat to get some cash for Munro. In real life, the hat was passed, but Munro initiated it.
. . . Munro returned to Bonneville nine times, in spite of his heart disease. The 1967 record for under 1000cc motorcycle still stands.