Movie Review: “The Bikeriders”


Movie Review: The Bikeriders

“The Bikeriders” is a terrific movie that seeks to explore a simple truth: everyone wants to fit in somewhere. No matter how much of a loner or misanthrope a person is, there is still that primal tug to be part of a larger group. So we find ways to segment ourselves and belong amongst others: family, politics, sports, religion—most of the time those are all just pretenses that allow us to say “I’m not completely alone.” Even The Lone Ranger had a sidekick—people just have an innate need to be with others, to share in this experience with others. Of course, that group changes with time, mutates as new members come and the old guard fades away, leaving one to wonder if it’s all worth it. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (working from a midcentury book of photography by Danny Lyons) has delivered an excellent film powered by great performances that looks at the power and pain that comes from finding, and keeping, your group.

In mid-‘60s Chicago, Johnny (Tom Hardy) is inspired to create his own motorcycle club after seeing “The Wild One.” What’s fascinating is that he wasn’t driven to strike out on his own, away from his job and family, but that this tale of a rugged individual moved him to create a group of people like him. He’s rebelling against whatever you got…so long as he’s not alone in rebelling against it. He creates the Vandals, and soon finds himself surrounded by like-minded people (Boyd Holbrook, Michael Shannon, Damon Herriman, Beau Knapp, Karl Glusman, Emory Cohen) who also just want to drink and carouse and ride their motorcycles. Amongst them is Benny (Austin Butler), a lost soul who doesn’t quite fit in but finds a home with the Vandals and develops a reputation as the wild one of the bunch, and Johnny’s right hand man. Soon Benny is hitched with Kathy (Jodie Comer), who spends a decade telling photographer/writer Danny (Mike Faist) all about their life together, the ups and downs, and the various legends of the Vandals.

Nichols reteams with his usual cinematographer Adam Stone to deliver this excellent slice of life character portrait of people committed to carving out a home for themselves. This race of men who don’t fit in, as Robert Service would call them, are depicted beautifully with Stone’s camera—appropriately grimy and period accurate, their leather jackets and slicked back hair as shiny as their choppers. Accompanied by a ‘60s soundtrack of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll, Nichols effectively creates an immersive world of yesterday that’s populated by a host of characters saying memorable dialogue. The music, time period, and tale of a makeshift (and more than occasionally violent) family evokes “Goodfellas,” to the detriment of “The Bikeriders”; but, c’mon—most films are going to seem lesser when compared to Scorsese’s masterpiece. Still, this feels like a working class, Midwest answer to that 1990 classic, but infused with the seemingly effortless charm of the best of James Dean and Brando in the ‘50s.

All the actors in “The Bikeriders” deliver and thoroughly infuse their roles with great talent and personal touches. Norman Reedus’ Funny Sonny (who shows up from California about halfway through the movie), feels like a distraction and unnecessary cameo but I suppose that kind of fits with the character as well. Still, the rest of the cast are on fire here with special mentions being deserved for Comer, Butler, and Shannon. While really an outsider to the gang, Comer is the heart of the movie; it’s her telling the story of the Vandals to Danny that leads us through the asphalt jungle. The actor is a truly impressive mix of hilarious and vulnerable as her midwesternisms color the telling, as does her admiration, love, and fear. Butler continues to impress as he truly embodies that charming rebel type, the sensitive loner that is full of emotion but has nowhere to go with it. While Michael Shannon is…well, it’s Michael Shannon. He doesn’t have many lines or scenes, but he strikes an incredible figure with what he’s given and has a great monologue that exemplifies the conflict that brews within each of the Vandals.

“The Bikeriders” is funny, poignant, absorbing, and tremendous. Jeff Nichols’ film crosses many years and has a large cast but feels intimate and contained while it propulsively moves through the story. Truly an actors’ showcase, there are many memorable exchanges throughout where these people are allowed to shine and the artifice feels peeled away to reveal something larger, something true. It’s a powerful tale of wanting to fit in somewhere and the price that can come with it. It’s a funny movie about guys hanging out and doing stupid stuff, until it escalates beyond them and the laughter stops. It’s a great story of figuring out what we need from each other and why we’ll always need something from someone else. “The Bikeriders” is an excellent ride with artists doing extremely fantastic and singular work.

4.5 / 5 Stars
Starring: Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Mike Faist, Tom Hardy, Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook, Michael Shannon, Damon Herriman, Beau Knapp, Karl Glusman, Emory Cohen
Director: Jeff Nichols


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