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The Bikeriders (A Movie Review)


Starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist, Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook, Damon Herriman, Beau Knapp, Emory Cohen, Karl Glusman, Toby Wallace, Happy Anderson, Paul Sparks, Will Oldham, Nathan Neorr, Mierka Girten, Paul Dillon,  Valerie Jane Parker, Tony Donno, Mike Endoso, Rachel Lee Kolis and Phuong Kubacki.

Screenplay by Jeff Nichols.

Directed by Jeff Nichols.

Distributed by Focus Features. 116 minutes. Rated R.

Motorcycle gangs of the 1960s seem like sort of an odd thing to get nostalgic about. Particularly because the Chicago branch of the Outlaws is not exactly brooding Marlon Brando wild ones or rebels without a cause. Even in the early, more benign years of the group – as it starts in the film – these guys are hooligans, looking to get drunk, make a ruckus, get into a fight and to use every woman that crosses their paths. Just because you’re a rebel, it doesn’t mean you’re deep. Sometimes you’re a rebel because you aren’t.

Still, there is a certain amount of fascination in the way that as the decades turn, the animal house antics take a turn for the dark due to new recruits and new experiences. Suddenly organized crime, drugs, prostitution, arson and murder are all on the table, to the point that even the original members of the gang are somewhat shocked by what they have become.

The Bikeriders is based on a mostly forgotten 1967 photo book by photographer-turned-filmmaker Danny Lyon. Somewhat inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s then-recent book on Hell’s Angels, Lyon pretty much ignored Thompson’s advice to him to only hang with the bikers when needed for a photo, to always wear a helmet and by all means not to join the gang. Lyon basically spent four years (1963-1967) as an honorary member of the club, partying and never wearing a helmet. (The last couple of years, the membership was not just honorary.)

Then he moved on with his life. The frame story of The Bikeriders has Lyon (as played by Mike Faist) checking in during the 1970s with Kathy (Julie Comer), the wife of one of the lead bikers Benny (Austin Butler) to find out how the gang has changed so much. Benny had disappeared, gang leader Johnny (Tom Hardy) was also out of the picture. (For a film about Midwestern bikers, it’s interesting that two out of three of the lead roles go to British actors.)

Kathy gives a colorful account of everything that had happened, allowing the film to tell the Outlaws’ story in flashback, giving this story an interesting combination of oral history and love story.

Kathy and Benny are definitely star-crossed lovers from the very beginning – she is a tough urban chick and he’s a quiet but deadly dude who seems pretty much cut off from his emotions. Still, he does try to juggle being a husband and being a gang member, although the gang wins that struggle most of the time.

And while I personally have very little interest in motorcycle gang politics, The Bikeriders does give an intriguing view of life in the 1960s, and as the shadows of Altamonte loom in the near future, it shows the darkening of the free-love sixties dream.

Basically, it becomes a mob movie with hogs and leather jackets, but The Bikeriders has enough scope and offbeat quirks to break from the pack of historical dramas. This film isn’t likely to gain a huge audience, but I can see it having the potential to build a rabid cult base.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: June 21, 2024.


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