Burt Munro (played by Anthony Hopkins) has always loved the thrill of speed … and tinkering with engines to make a machine go as fast as possible … he gets lost in this world for hours inside his shed … he loves it. As he sees it, his days of hitting the road with the wind rushing at his face and the sheer thrill of speed are still ahead of him, but he’s getting at bit on in years now – it is 1960, after all. A born and bred New Zealander, Burt’s a proud Kiwi, living in Invercargill – about as far south as you can get on New Zealand’s South Island before the next land mass is Antarctica. His wife died a few years back and all he has these days is his shed and his one remaining love … his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle. He knows her inside out and he’s made every replacement piece himself. Yes, he knows about engines and speed alright. Bert’s neighbours, George (by Iain Rea) and Sarah (by Tessa Mitchell), think he’s a strange and eccentric old coot so they caution their son Tom, (by Aaron Murphy) to keep well away from him. But Tom’s fascinated and endeared by the old man and they have quite a connection. Burt’s long held dream is to take his “Indian” to America, to break the World Speed Record for motorcycles at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Leaving his lady-friend, Fran (by Annie Whittle) behind – and ignoring the advice of his doctor – he gets himself to America. Despite (or because of …) his naivety he meets a range of fascinating people along the way. When he reaches Bonneville, the “red tape” threatens to ruin everything at the very last hurdle … will Burt get to race his “Indian” and see if it can break the world record?
This is a lovely, entertaining and endearing movie. As a New Zealander myself, it’s heartening to see the “real” 1960’s New Zealand in this movie – Invercargill is regional, but the people care about each other and it shows here, that’s done very well. As the affable, bumbling and self-absorbed Burt Munro, Anthony Hopkins is marvellous. His Kiwi accent is not good, but he is exactly the right person to play this curious multi-layered man. His relationships are interesting too – he really seems to be one for the ladies, which is a little implausible but I guess it must be true. His connections with Tina (by Chris Williams) and Ada (by Diane Ladd) in America are very well done. His relationship with young Tom is lovely too and Aaron Murphy is really great in this role. It’s good to see Annie Whittle and Tim Shadbolt (both well known in New Zealand, Tim Shadbolt was active in politics for several years and is actually the current Mayor of Invercargill). The story itself is quite remarkable – anyone who is not familiar with Burt or his exploits will probably be fascinated to see how the story plays out. It’s a really entertaining movie. The director, Roger Donaldson, made a good name for himself in New Zealand cinema during the 1970s with films like “Sleeping Dogs” and “Smash Palace”, but he’s been working in Hollywood for years now. I believe he actually knew the real Burt Munro too – he must have had a personal interest in him – in 1971 he made a documentary about him (when Burt was 72) called “Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed”, so he will have got to know him personally – which makes this portrayal even more authentic. In 2005 the High Falls Film Festival presented the movie their Audience Award for Best Feature. In 2006, it won the New Zealand Screen Awards for Best Picture, Actor (Hopkins), Directing, Screenplay, Editing, Production Design and Soundtrack. Then in 2007, the Cinematographers Society awarded it their Golden Tripod. It deserves these awards, it’s a really nice movie.
Made in 2005. Directed by Roger Donaldson.