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The Bikeriders

3 out of 5 stars

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler channel old-school Hollywood cool in Jeff Nichols’ moody memoir of a ’60s biker gang

Kambole Campbell

Time Out says

A nod to Easy Rider towards the end of Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders feels like an apt reflection on the end of an era. As Dennis Hopper’s film marked a move from classic Hollywood to New Hollywood, the clean-cut outlaws at the centre of The Bikeriders represent a similar shift. Romantic, idealistic ruffnecks getting the boot in favour of a harsher, uglier version of Americana.

The Bikeriders is based on a book of photographs by Danny Lyon (played in the movie by Challengers Mike Faist). It explores the stories beyond those snaps, focusing on the wild panoply of characters drawn by this fringe lifestyle. Cleverly, the visual grammar reflects its source text, with portraiture-like cutaways to members of the Vandals, a real-life Chicago motorcycle club. They’re misfits unified by a love of bike riding and their own pariah status. 

Caught between those two generations is young biker Benny (Elvis’s Austin Butler). Jodie Comer is the film’s main voice as the sparky Kathy, Benny’s wife. She quickly falls in love with him and slowly learns to deal with his stubborn stoicism.

It’s a journalistic but romantic snapshot of a moment in time lost forever

But Benny isn’t quite one of the old guard. He’s as hot-headed as the new guys who arrive to turn the scene on its head. Their machismo is wryly reflected through the eyes of Kathy, who is simultaneously compelled by the gang’s surrogate family dynamic and repulsed by its unruliness. Benny only thinks about riding, an internalised state the charismatic Butler quietly nails. 

Where Butler is subdued, his British co-stars Comer and Tom Hardy, as bad boy Johnny, play things broader, not least in the accent department. Both, though, turn out to be a good fit for this band of outcasts (and Hardy’s performance makes more sense as a riff on Marlon Brando in The Wild One).

Like some of the ’50s and ’60s biker flicks it homages, The Bikeriders runs out of gas in a predictable final reel that never quite delivers the promised heartache. Still, it’s an intelligent and strikingly photographed film, a journalistic but romantic snapshot of a moment in time lost forever. 

In cinemas worldwide Jun 21.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Jeff Nichols
  • Screenwriter:Jeff Nichols
  • Cast:
    • Austin Butler
    • Jodie Comer
    • Tom Hardy
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