The latest from Australian director Roger Donaldson ("Cocktail", "Dante's Peak", "The Recruit") is this inspirational, small-scale true story, which focuses on Burt Munro, a New Zealander who travelled to Utah in the 60's to compete in "Speed Week" and ended up breaking a speed record that still stands. This isn't Donaldson's first attempt to film the subject - the director's 1971 documentary, "Offerings to the God of Speed", also focused on Munro.
As the picture opens, Munro works in his shed on his 20's Indian motorbike while his neighbors become increasingly upset about the state of his lawn. The local bikers are not exactly impressed, either. Despite the fact that his parents are upset about their next door neighbor, their young son, Thomas (Murphy), assists Munro with his work on the old Indian. Despite having the odds against him and not being in the best of health, Burt keeps pressing forward and attempts to round up financing for a trip to Utah's Bonneville Speedway in order to show what his bike was made of.
So, off Burt goes, meeting a collection of varied folks along the way towards Utah. The fish-out-of-water tale has Burt amazed at some of what the United States has to offer, including menus with photographs. While some take advantage of him, some also offer help on his journey. When he finally reaches Bonneville, he's not registered and people baffled by his machine, which has no breaks and a host of other concerns. Still, he manages to convince the staff to let him ride. Despite some setbacks, it's not long before the entire crowd has gotten behind Munro.
However, Donaldson's picture does go on for 129 minutes, and while some of the road trip/fish-out-of-water moments are amusing, this is a fairly simple and straightforward story that could have been told in a more streamlined fashion. While the picture is never terribly slow, cutting about 15-20 minutes from the running time (especially in the middle, as the movie does start to pick up again when Burt finally reaches Bonneville) could have given the movie a bit more momentum.
What makes the movie as enjoyable as it is is the performance from Anthony Hopkins as Munro. A loose, energetic and enjoyable effort, Hopkins seems to be having more fun here than he has in years. The film's visuals are also superb, as well: Donaldson and cinematographer David Gribble capture some gorgeous shots of the New Zealand, Utah and New Mexico locations. Overall, despite being an awfully formulaic (and slightly draggy, as mentioned) true story, the quirky, sweet picture does remain warm and likable throughout and Hopkins does a pretty fine job of carrying the story.
VIDEO: Magnolia presents "World's Fastest Indian" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with director Roger Donaldson's "The Recruit" (also shot in Super 35mm), the film was originally presented theatrically in 2.35:1, but has been changed for home video. The presentation quality is not without fault, but it does impress for much of the running time. Sharpness and detail are superb, as the picture appeared consistently sharp and well-defined throughout the running time.
Some minor edge enhancement did pop up briefly on a couple of occasions, but otherwise, the picture appeared clean and clear, with no pixelation, print flaws or other issues. Colors looked beautiful, appearing bright and crisp, with nice saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is mostly front-heavy, as the picture's largely dialogue-driven. However, the surrounds do kick in at times to offer some ambience or the occasional sound effects, especially during the racing scenes towards the end. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, full-sounding dialogue and clear, rich music.
EXTRAS: Commentary from writer/director Roger Donaldson, "making of" documentary (45 minutes), 4 deleted scenes, 3 minute promo on Burt's New Zealand hometown of Invercargill and Donaldson's 1971 documentary, "Offerings to the God of Speed" (27 minutes).
Final Thoughts: The movie does have some issues (length, etc.), but "World's Fastest Indian" coasts pretty well on the charm of Hopkins' terrific performance, which is one of his best in a while. The DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, along with a nice set of supplements. Recommended.
The Film B