Movie Reviews

Movie Review: THE BIKERIDERS Starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy

Posted: June 21, 2024 at 7:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know much about motorcycles.

Sure, I know the major brands. I’ve watched “American Chopper.” And…that’s about it. I’ve never seen an episode of “Sons of Anarchy” and I’ve never ridden on one, in part because of personal tragedy but mostly because I’m too clumsy to last long on one.

Still, there’s something strangely romantic about the idea of riding with a group of your closest friends. For some, it’s the sense of freedom on the open road. For others, it’s the camaraderie. Whatever the reason, motorcycles have been a fixture on the roads for as long as motorized vehicles have existed, and many riders have joined clubs, some of which have become household names (Outlaws, Hells Angels, etc.). And it’s one of these clubs that’s the focus of The Bikeriders.

Based on Danny Lyon’s eponymous 1967 photo-book, The Bikeriders is a dramatization of the nascent years of the Outlaws MC (Motorcycle Club), called the Vandals in the film. Although Danny (Mike Faist) is simply a photographer in the film, in real life, he actually joined the Outlaws for a few years to gain access to the club to take photographs. The film is told as a retrospective, split between 1967 and 1973 as Danny interviews Kathy (Jodie Comer) as she describes her life after she met Benny Bauer (Austin Butler) and married him.

Although he’s one of the younger Vandals, Benny is clearly one of the leaders of the club. He’s handsome, charismatic, and he’s quick to come to the aid of other members. He’s also best friends with Johnny (Tom Hardy), the founder and actual president of the club. Under Johnny’s leadership, the club quickly begins to grow as people from other cities hear about the group and wish to start local chapters. Based in a suburb of Chicago, the Vandals became famous and notorious in the 60s for their loud bikes and penchant for finding trouble.

Still, it’s not all fun and ideal. As Kathy integrates further into the lifestyle and she sees the physical toll it can take on Benny, the more strain it puts on their marriage as she begs him to turn his colors in (which is done when a member wishes to leave the club). Benny eventually becomes more and more uncomfortable with what the club starts to become, at times rebuking Johnny after he’s asked to perform tasks that seem to run counter to Benny’s principles.

Although the trailers mostly showed the more fun side of the film, it’s actually rather poignant at times. Beneath the nightly hangouts, the road trips, and the camping is the struggle of the members as the lifestyle slowly begins to catch up to them. Various members die in accidents or at the hands of rivals, and the movie pulls no punches in such moments thanks to tight writing and excellent performances by the cast. Comer and Butler are two extraordinarily talented performers, and I’m happy to announce that Butler has finally gotten rid of his Elvis accent, which was still noticeable in “Masters of the Air.” Comer, who is English, locks down a Midwest accent and provides life into a role that is and isn’t the star of the film. Not to be outdone, Hardy nails his part as Johnny, a middle-class father who somehow manages to be tough and tender at the same time. Full credit to the supporting cast, which is surprisingly deep: Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook, and Michael Shannon are all well-established actors playing supporting roles (I didn’t recognize Reedus until he appeared a few times on-screen).

Overall, The Bikeriders is an excellent vessel for the material it contains. It’s moving, it’s funny at times, it’s violent, and it’s vulgar. It portrays membership in the Vandals/Outlaws not as a glamorous lifestyle to be idolized, but more as a Faust tale: you may enjoy it for a while, but at some point, Mephisto will come for you and/or your friends. The question is whether it’s worth it.

At one point, Danny is interviewing Brucie (Damon Herriman) about why the various members joined the club. “We don’t belong nowhere else, so we belong together,” is Brucie’s reply. And I get it, to a lesser extent; I think that’s what we all want. I joined a fraternity in college, I played on several different sports teams growing up. Heck, I still play slow-pitch softball with some of my closest friends (go Dadbods!). It’s that desire to connect with other like-minded individuals, to have a good time, and if need be, to take on the world together that draws us close together. And so, on at least one level, I can understand the appeal.

It’s either that or the bikes. Maybe it’s not that deep.

The Bikeriders gets a B+