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The World's Fastest Indian - Movie Review

By Walter F. Kern

The story of Burt Munro: builder, mechanic, rider, genuine motorcycle hero

I don't normally do movie reviews, mainly because most movies about motorcycles don't appeal to real motorcyclists and, frankly, aren't usually very good to begin with. This movie, "The World's Fastest Indian," is different.

To catch your attention, this movie stars Anthony Hopkins playing Burt Munro, legendary Kiwi from Invercargill, New Zealand, who had a 40 year dream to break the world land-speed record with his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle.

Sounds like a documentary, you say. Well, that's how it started out when director, friend, and fellow Kiwi, Roger Donaldson created a documentary about Burt's life called "Offerings to the God of Speed." Donaldson then went on to direct a number of movie projects including "Dante's Peak" (1997), "Thirteen Days" (2000), and "The Recruit" (2003) before returning to Invercargill to make a full-length movie, "The World's Fastest Indian," to complete his goal of bringing Burt's story to the world.

Burt had a dream that took a long time to come to fruition. Born in 1899, Burt bought his new 1920 Indian motorcycle at the age of 21. He then proceeded to spend all his free hours improving and modifying the Indian to make it go faster and faster. The 25 years prior to Burt's taking his Indian to the Bonneville Salt Flats were mainly devoted full-time to getting the Indian ready to achieve speeds near 200 mph.

Burt was an eccentric without formal training in motorcycle mechanics who learned by trial and error and made his own parts and tools. He was a well-known racer in New Zealand and set many speed records there.

His neighbors in Invercargill loved Burt but sometimes hated his personal habits that included starting up his Indian before dawn, urinating on his lemon tree to fertilize it, failing to cut his grass, and using water for tea that was obtained from a container he also used to cool his red hot homemade pistons.

He finally realized that he needed to go someplace where he could achieve the speeds he knew the Indian was capable of. He also needed official timing of his high-speed runs. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah was the only place to go. He was able to raise enough money to finance a boat trip to the United States.

Once in California, Burt began a series of adventures to reach the Salt Flats where he could participate in Speed Week. Once there, he was denied access because he failed to pre-register and his vehicle and apparel did not meet Bonneville standards.

Wherever Burt went, he made friends. His ability to get people to empathize with him started to help him overcome the obstacles laid before him. 25 years of working to achieve his goal was not to be denied.

It's historical fact that Burt achieved his goal in 1967. The telling of the story of how he did it in "The World's Fastest Indian" will keep you riveted to your seat.

There's plenty of motorcycle action and human relationships in this movie. Just listening to and watching Anthony Hopkins portraying Burt is a great movie experience in itself. Burt's homespun humor, endearing comments on life, and innate ability to solve any technical problem will have you cheering him on. Don't miss his theory of "shifting the center of pressure behind the center of gravity."

There's also a new book out, "One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro". I ordered a copy of that for my personal motorcycle library.

Buy the Book: One Good Run

So, see the movie. I know you'll like it. This movie may not be around long and it was hard to find. It's not a widely distributed film. In New Jersey, where I live, it was appearing in only a half-dozen or so theaters. I had to drive 30 miles to get to the closest theater. Thankfully, there is a DVD available.

Buy the Video: World's Fastest Indian

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