A star-studded cast oozes sex appeal, motor oil and blood in Jeff Nichols’ latest crime drama. Inspired by Danny Lyon’s 1967 photography book of the same name The Bikeriders explores the rise of an American Motorcycle gang called the ‘Vandals’. As soon as the title card pops up and that needle drops, you know you’re in for a wild stylish ride.
An incredible ensemble
Whilst having top billing, Austin Butler takes a back seat to an incredible ensemble, but Butler’s presence as Benny is felt throughout every moment. Even if he’s just at the back of the frame or not even in the scene, you can’t help but think about the domineering and powerful performance. It’s a fine line to balance with a character like this, he’s such a silent, stoic person that under less care it could easily slip into dull or blank.
Butler could not be further from that, a mesmerising presence on screen has you noticing every minute detail – an eye twitch, a faint hint of a smile, or cracking his knuckles as he swings for a punch. Just like the other characters, he unintentionally easily charms and wins us over while attempting to keep you at such a distance… but you actively try to learn more.
The bike gang is led by Tom Hardy’s Johnny, who is one of the more interesting characters. A man with power who seemingly resents that fact. Then, the structural crux of the film is Jodie Comer’s Kathy, who narrates the majority of the story. This, I feel, will be the gauge of different people’s enjoyment of The Bikeriders, I loved the additions the narration would make as it added a non-linear element to the story as Kathy recollects the events from the future. It also keeps the mystique of Benny, not being inside his head for his thoughts.
For a film so reminiscent of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, this is its biggest departure, having diegetic narration. Mike Faist plays Danny Lyons, the documentarian behind the book and so interviews characters about past events instead of the narration being a surreal thought track.
Meaning and rules
To me, the film is predominantly about toxic masculinity and how these men came together over a shared interest by pouring their all into it. They couldn’t express themselves in any other way to anyone else, they refuse to show emotions let alone feel them, so it builds up into violent outbursts or endless drinking. It’s a shared cause that gives them meaning, and rules to abide by. An utterly fascinating watch. These men became each other’s family, they wouldn’t ask tough questions because they knew they couldn’t answer it themselves.
While only nearly two hours in length, The Bikeriders feels like you’ve lived a whole other life by the end of it. In the best way possible. Leaving the auditorium I thought I’d have a great big bushy beard and my clothes would have miraculously turned to leather.
While the plot can float around at times, director Jeff Nichols carefully constructs a film that does what the book it’s based on set out to do six decades ago. That’s not to judge these people, just to solely document their way of life. This is a film you hold around the waist as it rides off into the distance with a deafeningly loud engine and a killer soundtrack.
And Norman, please clean those teeth.