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" I can’t believe Liberace was gay "
— Mike Myers, Austin Powers

MRQE Top Critic

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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It is 1962 in New Zealand. Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is facing old age (as so many of Hopkins’ characters are) and looking for something to punctuate his life. He’s been tinkering with his motorcycle for thirty years and has a vague idea that he wants to race it at the Bonneville Salt Flats, just to see how fast she can really go. He finally speaks his desire to a close friend, and soon enough, he’s actually doing it.

There; except for the details, I’ve saved you two hours.

Flat as Bonneville

Hopkins looks wistfully back on his past
Hopkins looks wistfully back on his past

The details involve Hopkins facing one minor crisis after another as he inches his way closer to Utah. None of the crises amount to much. Each is solved within five or ten minutes of screen time. Some of them are solved within the same scene. Will his heart hold out? Will his bike survive the ocean voyage? Will his prostrate allow him to pee? Donaldson manages to create some tension from these questions, but really, Burt’s story seems to be not nearly as interesting or eventful as a feature film demands.

Granted, sometimes it’s nice to see a movie where there are no villains, no life-or-death decisions, just the trials of everyday life. But usually movies without a strong conflict have something else going for them: a twist, great characters, or some fantabulous style. And they usually manage to find enough drama in the everyday that you don’t miss the villains.

But The World’s Fastest Indian seems to have nothing else going for it, so it introduces these little conflicts to try to compensate. They feel like attempts to add texture to a story as flat as Bonneville itself. But they are so obviously written for the screen, so out of place and completely unrelated, that it’s as if Donaldson is just trying to trick us out of our time, rather than adding real texture.

Setting? Style? Characters? Anything Else?

Giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, I can concede that maybe the point is not the drama, but the characters or the settings or the style. And indeed there is some well-polished fun to be had as the movie opens in New Zealand.

New Zealand is quaint and picturesque and there’s a nice mentor/student relationship between Burt and a young boy who, while not really interested in motorcycles, is at least interested in the old man’s life. But the film only works as a travelogue for so long. As soon as Burt leaves New Zealand, the boy is out of the picture, and we’re stuck with the drawn-out story of his road trip to America.

And it’s hard to praise the movie for its style, which seems to be content with re-creating the 1960s. And even then, it’s sketchy. When Burt arrives at Bonneville, the veteran racer is played by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, whose pedigree as a Kennedy is more prominent than his accomplishments as an actor. It looks like he couldn’t even be bothered to get a period haircut.

Hopkins, while eminently talented, is unable to raise this movie above its flat, featureless plot. He plays his usual self, looking wistfully into the distance, his eyes tearing up, as he reminisces about the old days. Of course, he’s great at it — he’s Anthony Hopkins — but it’s the same schtick he uses in a lot of his recent movies, and it’s all he — or this movie — has to offer.