The Bikeriders Review

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Somewhere between Marlon Brando in The Wild One and Charlie Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy, you have Austin Butler in The Bikeriders. Jeff Nichols’ film captures a transitional period in motorcycle culture. It’s hard to say this was a more innocent time, as the central gang does commit serious crimes. Yet, much of The Bikeriders plays like a laidback hangout movie as the characters partake in parties and picnics. Blood is spilled here and there, but you don’t get the sense that these people would resort to senseless murder. The following generation will, though, effectively ending the party.

The Bikeriders was inspired by photographer Danny Lyon’s book about a real outlaw motorcycle club. Mike Faist portrays Lyons as he chronicles the gang’s activities in the 60s. Think Almost Famous, but with bikers instead of a band. Where Almost Famous was told from the young journalist’s perspective, The Bikeriders is presented through another outsider’s lens. Few mainstream actresses have played a wider range of characters as of late than Jodie Comer. In The Bikeriders, Comer turns her most ordinary character into a scene-stealer. With a thick Chicago accent, Comer plays Kathy, who catches the eye of Austin Butler’s Benny.

Benny is the most stoic member of the Vandals, a biker club led by Tom Hardy’s Johnny. After getting on Benny’s bike one night, it isn’t long until Kathy ties the knot with him. Kathy seems like the last person who would become involved with a renegade biker. She wears pink sweaters and could give Marge Gunderson a run for her money in the pleasant department. Kathy isn’t a “good girl” with a wild side like Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause. She doesn’t start wearing black leather like Sandy in Grease either. It’s hard to confirm without reading the screenplay, but Sandy may share more dialogue with Johnny than Benny.

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That said, there is an unspoken sincerity to Kathy and Benny’s romance. Benny accepts Kathy for who she is, never asking her to change. Kathy tries to accept Benny, but can’t help but fear he might not come home one night. The Vandals command respect throughout Chicago. Even as the Vandals stand outside a burning bar surrounded by cops and firefighters, no arrests are made. The Vandals aren’t without rivals who Benny won’t hesitate to pick a fight with. The real danger may be within the club, as it begins to act more like an organized crime syndicate. While Kathy knows what will happen if they don’t leave this life behind, Benny abides by the saying, “Ride or die.”

That sounds melodramatic, but as gritty as The Bikeriders can be, it’s also an honest film about found family. Just as we buy into Benny and Kathy’s relationship, we believe in the bond between every biker. Nichols assembles a wonderful ensemble that includes Michael Shannon, Damon Herriman, and Norman Reedus, among other character actors. The Vandals might seem intimidating, but listening to them talk, the audience wishes they could grab a beer with these characters (assuming you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes). Like Easy Rider before it, the film humanizes bikers in ways you might not expect. Although The Bikeriders might not change cinema like Easy Rider did, both encapsulate an evolving landscape, leaving the glory days behind for something more wild.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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