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The World's Fastest Indian

Sir Anthony Hopkins may have just won the Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille Life Achievement Award last month but hes not about to rest on his laurels with any slowing down. This month he can be seen in The Worlds Fastest Indian (opening February 3 at Horton Plaza, Edwards Mira Mesa, and AMC Mission Valley), a film from down under about a retired senior obsessed with speed.

Sir Anthony Hopkins made an indelible impression on audiences when he played the deliciously evil Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs in 1991. He also added a few phrasesI ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti and I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinnerto the pop culture repertoire of famous lines. He has professed an affinity for playing monsters and may be best remembered for his performances as Lecter in two movies, Hitler in The Bunker, and kidnapper Bruno Hampton in The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. These are definitely showy roles but Hopkins also has a talent for playing less flashy characters as he did in The Elephant Man, Howards End and The Remains of the Day.

Recently, hes continued to focus on characters of a more human scale in films such as The Human Stain, Proof and now The Worlds Fastest Indian. In Roger Donaldsons The Worlds Fastest Indian, he plays Burt Munro, an aging Kiwi chasing a land speed record in the 1960s. The Indian of the title is a 1920 motorcycle that Munro has been coaxingthrough renovations and infinite tweakingto higher and higher speeds. Living in a glorified shed in New Zealand, the retired and obsessive Munro has spent all his time for the past few decades rebuilding the bike and pursuing his dream of going to Speed Week at Salt Lake City in Utah. Against all the odds, Munro packs his bike on a tramp steamer and heads off for America. Once he arrives on the California shores, he still has to make the trek to Utah, and the journey provides the film with a number of endearing vignettes as Munro works his charms on the Americans.

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Writer-director Roger Donaldson directed Hopkins as Captain Bligh in The Bounty and is currently working with the actor on Papa, a portrait of Ernest Hemingway. For The Worlds Fastest Indian, Donaldson lets Hopkins create one of his warmest and most endearing roles. Once again, Hopkins creates a flawless performance as the gentle but fiercely determined Munro. He displays folksy charm and a certain naivet about the world but theres also grit and steel-willed resolve beneath the smiling demeanor. Its another finely etched character to add to his still growing gallery of roles.

Donaldson burst on the film scene back in 1981 with Smash Palace, another film from down under about a man consumed by racing. But most of Donaldsons previous films have focused on things coming apart. In Smash Palace, its a marriage thats crumbling; in The Bounty, its the law and order aboard a ship giving way to mutiny; in No Way Out, its a spys cover slowly unraveling. But for The Worlds Fastest Indian, Donaldson offers a positive tale about pursuing and achieving a dream. Its a film about things coming together despite obstacles. He makes his film an appealing road picture with Hopkins Munro always able to rely on the kindness of strangers. Donaldson gets the simplicity of Munros life and the way he has reduced things down to just what he needshis bike, some tools, and a few friends who know that they come after the old Indian in order of importance. Donaldsons directing doesnt push the creative envelope in any way. His footage of the racing conveys the speed but doesnt quite capture whats so addictive about it. But like Stephen Frears with Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Donaldson is smart enough to just stay out of his actors way and let him have center stage.

The Worlds Fastest Indian (rated PG-13 for some language, brief drug use and brief sexual situations) offers a nice contrast between the speeds Munro hits on his bike and the slow but persistent pace of his life as he relentlessly but not speedily pursues his dreams. Like Munro, however, Hopkins sees no sense in slowing down. He may be getting older but theres no stopping him from pushing the envelope in his chosen profession of acting.