The Bikeriders, 2023.
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Mike Faist, Norman Reedus, Michael Shannon, Emory Cohen, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Sparks, and Damon Herriman.
The Bikeriders is a furious drama following the rise of a fictional 1960s Midwestern motorcycle club through the lives of its members.
Jeff Nichols has had an eclectic career across the likes of Mud, Midnight Special and Loving which have all earned positive responses with critics and audiences. His first in 7 years is The Bikeriders, loosely inspired by the photo book of the same name from Danny Lyon published in 1967. It depicts Lyon (Mike Faist) charting the lives of the members of a bike gang known as The Vandals from the mid-60s to the early 70s.
Jodie Comer’s Kathy, wife of Benny (Austin Butler), is our main interviewee charting how she first got involved with the gang and met Benny. The styling of these recollections and pacing, coupled with the ’60s setting recall some of Martin Scorsese’s work, perhaps most notably Goodfellas and Casino. Nichols has mined a wealth of well-known and more overlooked tunes from the era including from the likes of Cream, Muddy Waters, The Shangri-La’s and Ray Charles. Alongside the high-octane riding sequences, these help propel the film along and maximise the period setting.
The cast is a huge asset to The Bikeriders; being one of Butler’s first major roles post Elvis will be a draw no doubt and while he is an integral figure, he often sits on the periphery for stretches of the story with Kathy and Tom Hardy’s Johnny, the club’s founder taking centre stage. Comer especially is terrific showing Kathy’s initial dalliance with Johnny and how she became increasingly anxious about the direction the group was travelling in as their number increased. She more than holds her own against Hollywood heavyweights showing why she is so highly regarded.
Hardy is a volatile leader for the group, giving one of his finest performances in some time and sharing some fine chemistry with Butler their bond key to the plot. While no one else is given quite enough meat to work with it’s a fine supporting cast including Boyd Holbrook, Nichols regular Michael Shannon and an unrecognisable Norman Reedus. Mike Faist is used frustratingly sparingly as Lyon, never really getting to his motives or reasons for chronicling the club.
Adam Stone’s cinematography makes this a visual feast especially capturing the group drifting across the states. It may well prove to be a contender come awards time. A few areas that may have initially seemed to have awards potential fall a tad short though; Nichols’ screenplay is often distracting, taking away from the performances with some repetitive dialogue that doesn’t drive the film forward.
The Bikeriders may not be one of Nichols’ finest efforts, but it is another steady chapter in the career of one of American cinema’s most intriguing journeymen. It boasts strong performances across the board and looks gorgeous with a fine soundtrack however the screenplay and some pacing issues hold it back from being the truly great return for Jeff Nichols this might otherwise have been – coupled with potentially unfavourable comparisons to the likes of Scorsese.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★