Here’s a movie you won’t easily find in theaters. You probably won’t see it released on DVD either, unless you specifically search for it online. Yet it’s a great, simple film that will inspire you to aim higher, and live a little larger. This flick has been going from festival to festival, and unless a big studio exec picks it up and spins it, people won’t know what they’re missing. This summer’s lacking in good entertainment, find this film and see it with your family.
The movie is about a man and his motorcycle. Sounds plain, but this simplicity keeps everything accessible and likable. There’s no plot twists and no special effects – we follow a man on his journey. Anthony Hopkins engages us from the first few minutes as an aging man who’s been tweaking his 1920s Indian motorcycle, and dreams to race it at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. He’s a New Zealander (kiwi), and does not have a lot to his name. It doesn’t stop him from mortgaging his land and his belongings to finance the trip across the ocean, to be plunged into a completely different culture in LA, to travel by car to Utah, and compete with “the big boys” on their turf.
That’s it – the plot in a nutshell. We know right away he’s going to get to his goal, and show off his “upgraded” machine. After all, the film is based on a true story, so we all know exactly what is going to happen. What captures is the journey, and the people he meets on the way. Hopkins creates a character so straightforward, so sincere, we want to have him for a neighbor. There’s no persona, no front to his character (Burt Munro); there’s no angle to his activities. He’s determined to get across the big sea, to drive to Utah, and to compete with other racers.
Absolutely nothing – language barrier, culture shock, limited finances, road conditions – can stop him, and he approaches every obstacle with glee, as if he wants to be challenged, just to see how long it will take to deal with this, yet another challenge. This is a road movie where we want bad things to happen to the main character because we know he’ll overcome them and be a better man afterwards.
Along the way he meets a transvestite (while staying in LA motel); a car salesman (who offers him a job after spending just 10 minutes with the man); a few lonely people scattered across America’s west coast (this film takes place in early 1970s, so the landscape is bare); and a few fans at Bonneville. They are all drawn to him because of disarming honesty, unusual accent (kudos to Hopkins to tackling kiwi accent and not breaking it in mid-sentence); and weathered face. They are fascinated by his stubborn and kind determination – “I’m planning on racing my Indian at Bonneville” he tells everyone. There’s a sweet sequence at the race when the organizers bend rules just to get Burt’s motorcycle into the flats. After all, this is an old man, trying to break a speed record on a 20-year-old machine – which he customized himself, using a borrowed kitchen knife and old tires.
In today’s world, where people hire “specialists” to do the most basic tasks, where electricians and mechanics are considered “booming” professions; when people do not leave their home towns, let alone countries; when neighbors don’t even acknowledge each other – this is a needed film. It reminds us what we can do with our own hands; how far away from home we can go and still find people to relate to; how vast and different the world is, and just how much one can do with enough determination.
You don’t have to be a fan of races, or motorcycles; you don’t have to be Anthony Hopkins afficionado; and you may have trouble with some of the accent, but this movie can connect to almost everyone, kid and adult alike – without getting sappy or predictable. See it today, and set an unattainable goal tomorrow – just to see how far you will go to get it.