Movie Review: THE BIKERIDERS Is One of the Year’s Better Films

During the 1960s, photographer, and filmmaker Danny Lyon followed the activities of a motorcycle club in Illinois and compiled the photos for a book that revealed candids of the real people behind this organization. Filmmaker Jeff Nichols has taken this book and developed a riveting film that deconstructs how this masculinity and desire to be powerful can devolve into something hideous and out of control. Though Nichols’ film is a fictional take on this true story, it still rings very truthfully and is food for thought in recognizing that the male desire to be dominant and prodigious can have some negative consequences.

Tom Hardy stars as Johnny, a blue-collar father and husband who desires a life more exciting than his simple life. Already involved in a motorcycle racing group of friends, Johnny wishes to create a biker club inspired by the image of “bad boys” glorified in movies like The Wild One and Rebel Without A Cause. Johnny eventually gains the interest of a motley assortment of like-minded working-class men, such as the rebellious Benny (Austin Butler), who are eager to let their bad boy flag fly. However, given the nature of the time and the significant changes occurring, Johnny discovers that his biker “gang” is growing beyond his control and devolving into something he does not want.

I first had the opportunity to watch this captivating film at the Austin Film Festival, and ever since then, it has stayed with me. Nichols’ creation of this world and characters is compelling, and his mix of humor, social commentary, and palpable drama makes this fictionalized take oh-so-real and powerful. Though biker gang culture has been glamorized in cinema, Nichols takes a more genuine approach to the archetype and reveals the ugly side of this scenario.

Nichols and his casting director have assembled a fantastic cast for this movie. Tom Hardy is perfectly cast as Johnny, a bored and disenchanted working man who seeks glory in other ways, inspired by the pop culture of his era. Appropriately, Hardy channels the performances of Brando, James Cagney, and other Hollywood bad boys, which would have inspired Johnny’s persona. Austin Butler delivers an electric but deliberate turn as Benny, a young rebel who loves his club passionately and is inspired by James Dean.

Jodie Comer performs outstandingly as Kathy, Benny’s wife and the voice of reason and morality. In the film, Kathy is interviewed by journalist Danny Lyon (Mike Faist) and reveals the reality and troubles faced by the gang. It came as no surprise that Nichols regular Michael Shannon participates in some fun and amusing ways as biker gang member Zipco.

The Bikeriders, in my view, is one of the standout films of this year. It draws inspiration from its cinematic predecessors, but it also has a distinct voice that speaks to the issues of our time. Its exploration of masculinity, power dynamics, and the consequences of unchecked ambition is a message that is not only important but also deeply resonant in our modern society. I wholeheartedly recommend it for a theatrical experience, as it is a film that not only deserves immediate recognition but also promises to hold its relevance for years to come.

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