The Bikeriders Review: An Aesthetic, Americana Tragedy 

The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders doesn’t have a lot to say, at least not out loud.

The new drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols is an original story inspired by the photo book of the same name by Danny Lyon. It follows the fictional motorcycle club the Vandals in Chicago through a changing decade.

If you’re interested in an aesthetic, nostalgic look at that era, The Bikeriders delivers beautifully. From the music to the costumes to the fact it was shot on film, you’ll feel fully transported back in time from the opening scene. For a story inspired by photos it certainly makes a pretty picture.

The Bikeriders
Austin Butler stars as Benny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS. Credit: Bryan Schutmaat/Focus Features © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Much like its leading man Austin Butler, who plays the reticent but effortlessly cool Benny, the film mostly operates on vibes. It’s part drama, part hangout movie about a group of misfits in a motorcycle club.

The film is this year’s answer to Oppenheimer in the sense that every scene brings in a new white male actor that will have you thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’ve seen that guy in something before.” The supporting cast includes Damon Herriman, Boyd Holbrook, Emory Cohen, and Paul Sparks just to name a few.

I’m not complaining, since it’s always a good idea to let character actors like Michael Shannon cook in zany roles like his character Zipco. There’s something magnetic about watching this group of dirty, grimy outcasts adhere to their way of living and brotherhood.

The charm of the casting and motorcycle club premise isn’t what holds the film together into something worth seeing though. That would be the structure of the story being framed around conversations between Benny’s girlfriend Kathy (Jodie Comer) and photographer Danny (Mike Faist) in a series of interviews taking years apart as he chronicles the club.

The Bikeriders
(L to R) Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Her love triangle so to speak with Benny and Vandals leader Johnny (Tom Hardy) also provides the film’s biggest tension. Kathy wants Benny to leave the club since she fears it might kill him while Johnny sees him as a protege who will carry on his legacy.

Benny is a (very handsome) blank page for both of them to project their desires on as they envy his seeming freedom and lack of care. Butler’s movie star quality mostly helps you understand why everyone is drawn to him though the character could have used a little more fleshing out.

Without Hardy and Comer, and their accompanying bold accents, the film would be distinctly lacking in much emotion. Although a summer release may lead to it being overlooked, if the stars align Comer could be one step closer to her EGOT with this role.

As you’re taken back in Kathy’s memories of the club, the story of an era is told more subtly. The shifting culture, from one of 60s freedom to the stifling trauma of post-Vietnam War era America, will sneak up on you just like it does Kathy and the ill-fated bikers she associates with.

The Bikeriders
Tom Hardy stars as Johnny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

As the years pass and the club grows, it goes from being a rowdy social club for men to something more nefarious and deadly. There is a message buried somewhere in the film about the need for connection and how absolute power corrupts absolutely, but the film stays on the surface requiring you to look deeper on your own.

The film never veers too far into being a full crime movie, but you can see it as a prequel, one that focuses on the good times that are gone before you realize it.

Its quiet ending reflects on a happy memory, but the film’s overal tragedy reminds you the freedom of a motorcycle is only ever in your mind.

The Bikeriders is now in theaters.


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