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Review: The Bikeriders (2024)

The Bikeriders (2024)

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Premise: Set in the 1960s and early 70s, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts create a riding club. What begins as a social fraternity gradually becomes darker and increasingly violent.

What Works: The Bikeriders is a smart and well-crafted movie that is pries into male relationships and the cultural mythology around motorcycles. The film centers upon the triangular relationship between Benny (Austin Butler), his wife Kathy (Jodie Comer), and the club president and founder Johnny (Tom Hardy). Benny is committed to the biker lifestyle which is at odds with Kathy’s desire for a more stable and conventional home life but she is attracted to Benny because of his outlaw qualities. Benny’s love for bikes is tied up with his affection for Johnny and their bromance is as deep and complicated as Benny and Kathy’s marriage. All three of the lead actors are terrific and The Bikeriders has a great supporting cast that includes Michael Shannon, Norman Reedus, and Boyd Holbrook. We get a sense of the brotherhood and the shared values among the motorcyclists and The Bikeriders has a vivid and specific sense of time and place. The filmmakers understand why motorcycles are important to these men and more broadly they understand what motorcycles represent in the culture, namely freedom, masculinity, and the mythology of the outlaw. The film is self-aware; Johnny gets the idea for the riding club from the 1953 movie The Wild One and Tom Hardy’s affect recalls Marlon Brando’s performance in that film. The men of the club indulge a masculine fantasy but living the life of an outlaw creates an increasingly violent and chaotic reality. The Bikeriders also dramatizes the paradox of the outlaw lifestyle. The club members fancy themselves liberated from mainstream society’s requirements but then create rigid rules for themselves that are brutally enforced. It’s a fascinating study in the way American culture fetishes independence and freedom while often creating the opposite. The Bikeriders finds the human dimension in all this and it’s heartbreaking as these people watch the thing they love turn into something ugly. This film is also beautifully shot especially night scenes that use shadow quite well.

What Doesn’t: The Bikeriders is based on the photo-book by Danny Lyon, which depicted the real-life Outlaws motorcycle club. The film includes Lyon (Mike Faist) as a character doing interviews, which is a device used to deliver exposition. The picture doesn’t need the narration. Most of what we’re told can be deduced from the drama and the performances.

Bottom Line: Forced exposition aside, The Bikeriders is an exceptional film. It’s extremely well made with a slate of great performances but it’s also really smart with a lot going on just underneath the surface.

Episode: #1002 (June 30, 2024)