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'The Bikeriders' Review

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June 20, 2024
By:
Hunter Friesen
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“Do I really talk like that?” was a phrase I thought to myself several times throughout The Bikeriders; its actors laying on their Midwestern accents so thick that I suspect this was secretly directed by the Coen brothers. Of course, you never really know how you sound until you hear a recording of yourself, so maybe this is writer/director Jeff Nichols’ way of playing back the tape. Jodie Comer plunges so deep into self-parody that her all-capital-letters “Chi-CAH-go” way of speaking eventually starts to work. Fellow Brit Tom Hardy tries to mine something from a combination of Al Capone, which he played in a gladly forgotten 2020 film, and his Southern bootlegging character from Lawless. It’s a formula for distraction rather than introspection, with us always on the outside focusing on the actor rather than the character.


Johnny (Hardy) wasn’t born with a fascination for motorcycles, it came to him as a “literally me” styled epiphany when he sat down with a TV dinner in his Chicago home and caught a few minutes of The Wild One. The sight of Marlon Brando donned in leather and uttering the phrase “Whaddya got?” when asked what he’s rebelling against lit a fuse in Johnny’s head. He started The Vandals, your typical Harley-Davidson riding, leather and jeans-wearing club of grown men just looking to feel the wind in their hair and drink enough beer to forget about their daily lives. For a while it was paradise, and then it wasn’t.



The narrative structure of the rise and fall of a group of people has been done several times before, most notably in the crime films of Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street) and those he influenced (early Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell). Nichols has never been known to dabble in that type of commerciality, often opting for a more poetic lens to capture the subcultures of the southern-fried United States. That lyricism is diluted quite a bit for The Bikeriders, but there’s still just enough of an effect to keep this from totally being another by-the-numbers crime movie. Nichols has a humanistic curiosity about why these bums who hate rules would form a club that charges dues. One of its more senior members, Brucie (Damon Herriman), explains that he just likes to be a part of something, and all these people who used to have nobody now have people looking out for them.


One of those members who couldn’t care less about others is Benny (Austin Butler). If Johnny took inspiration from Brando, then Benny comes from James Dean. He gets not one, but two movie star entrances, the first with his back to the camera as he gets into a brawl with some irritable locals, and the second where he’s hunched over at a pool table and locks eyes with Kathy (Comer) from across the room. He’s a smoldering drifter, which explains his lack of an accent and disregard for being tied down to one place. It also makes him a pretty uninteresting character, with Butler’s looks doing almost all the heavy lifting.


Kathy’s love for Benny plays into the dynamic that we want what we can’t have. Her explanation for why she stuck around with him and the gang for almost a decade comes through the framing of a photographer named Danny (inspired by the true story of Danny Lyons, played here by Mike Faist) who is documenting the journey of The Vandals. Their conversations serve more as a workaround to get Comer to narrate the movie, with her dynamic with Danny never coming to mean much else.



The Vandal's supporting players are also kicked a bit to the curb, consisting of veteran players like Micahel Shannon (appearing in his fifth of Nichols’ six feature films), Boyd Holbrook, Norman Reedus, and Emory Cohen. A few scenes pop up here and there to give them some flavor, such as Shannon opening up about not serving in Vietnam, but, for the most part, they’re less interesting cogs in this machine.


Nichols does keep that engine running at all times, the period-accurate needle drops and roaring of the bikes creating a testosterone-fueled symphony. It’s all good and fun on the surface, there’s just not enough under the hood to make it into the beast it strives to be.

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