The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders
Original title:The Bikeriders
Director:Jeff Nichols
Running time:116 minutes
Release date:21 june 2024
In a bar in the city, Kathy, a young woman with a strong temperament, meets Benny, who has just joined the Vandals biker gang, and immediately falls under his spell. Like the country as a whole, the gang, led by the enigmatic Johnny, is gradually changing... Whereas the bikers used to welcome all those who had trouble finding their place in society, the Vandals become a gang of shameless thugs. Benny must choose between Kathy and his loyalty to the gang.

Mulder's Review

Jeff Nichols' The Bikeriders is a cinematic journey into the gritty, seductive world of 1960s motorcycle culture, drawing heavily on the style and substance of Martin Scorsese's iconic films. The film, based on Danny Lyon's 1968 photo book of the same name, chronicles the life of a fictional Chicago motorcycle club, the Vandals, as seen through the eyes of Kathy, played by Jodie Comer. With a mixture of nostalgia, rebellion and existential questioning, Nichols paints a vivid but uneven portrait of a subculture grappling with its own identity and the passage of time.

The story follows the rise and fall of the Vandals, led by the enigmatic Johnny (Tom Hardy). Kathy, the girlfriend of the charismatic Benny (Austin Butler), guides the audience through this testosterone-fueled world. Her narration, reminiscent of Lorraine Bracco's in Goodfellas, attempts to provide an insider's point of view, but often proves superficial and detached. This framing device, while faithful to Lyon's original interviews, sometimes detracts from the film's depth, reducing complex characters to archetypes.

Tom Hardy's portrayal of Johnny is the film's anchor. His character, inspired by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, is a quiet force of nature whose power within the club derives from the respect and awe he inspires. Hardy's performance is a study in controlled chaos, his muddy Brando-like mumbling adding layers to a man grappling with his demons and the responsibilities of leadership.

Austin Butler's Benny is the magnetic center around which the club revolves. His presence, though often relegated to the background, exudes a raw charisma that keeps the audience invested. However, the film's narrative often sidelines him in favor of Kathy's point of view, which can seem limiting.

Jodie Comer, as Kathy, delivers a performance marked by a curious blend of naiveté and strength. Her character, though destined to be the emotional core of the film, often seems underdeveloped. Her accent, a mixture of Frances McDormand in Fargo and Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas, sometimes detracts from the authenticity of her performance. Kathy's evolution from outcast to quasi-member of the Vandals lacks the depth necessary to fully capture the audience's attention.

Adam Stone's photography captures the rugged beauty and realism of the 1960s. The decision to shoot in color, despite the black-and-white source material, adds a layer of immediacy and vibrancy to the film. The grainy texture of the images evokes a sense of nostalgia, anchoring the story in its historical context. Key scenes, such as the introduction of Benny bent over a pool table or the battle sequences, are filmed with a visceral intensity that plunges the viewer into the heart of the action.

The sound design and musical score are outstanding, with a mix of period-appropriate tunes and the roaring engines of Harley Davidsons setting the tone. The film's soundscape, from the roar of motorcycles to the ambient noise of bars, immerses the audience in the world of the Vandals, making the experience almost tactile.

The Bikeriders explores themes of freedom, loyalty and the search for identity in the context of a changing America. The motorcycle, symbol of absolute freedom, is both a dream and a curse for the characters. Johnny's struggle to maintain control of the club reflects the broader societal changes of the time, as ideals of freedom collide with the harsh realities of power and violence.

Kathy's narrative arc highlights the gender dynamics within the club, portraying her as both an insider and a perpetual outsider. Her struggle to reconcile her love for Benny with the destructive nature of the club is a poignant commentary on the sacrifices and compromises inherent in such a lifestyle.

One of the film's greatest strengths is its ability to capture the allure and danger of motorcycle culture. The opening scenes, particularly the first 40-50 minutes, are electric and offer a thrilling glimpse into the world of the Vandals. The camaraderie, the thrill of the ride and the raw, unfiltered masculinity are portrayed with near-documentary authenticity.

However, as the story progresses, the film loses some of its initial momentum. The shift to the 1970s brings a darker tone, reflecting the decline of the club and the erosion of its original ideals. This change, while thematically appropriate, lacks the dynamism of the film's opening, resulting in a somewhat uneven pace.

The decision to frame the story from Kathy's point of view, while interesting, ultimately seems limited. Her character, while sympathetic, lacks the depth or insight to carry the story. This choice also sidelines other potentially fascinating characters, such as Mike Faist, underused as Danny Lyon, whose role as chronicler of Vandal history could have provided a richer, more nuanced narrative.

The Bikeriders is a visually captivating and emotional film that captures the essence of a bygone era with equal affection and clarity. Jeff Nichols succeeds in creating a world that is both seductive and dangerous, a place where the ideals of freedom and brotherhood collide with the harsh realities of violence and loyalty. While the film's narrative choices and pacing problems prevent it from reaching the heights of great cinema, it nonetheless remains a fascinating exploration of biker culture and the human condition.

Tom Hardy and Austin Butler deliver remarkable performances, anchoring the film in their complex portraits of men caught between their desires and their responsibilities. Jodie Comer's Kathy, despite some flaws, offers a unique perspective that adds depth to the story. Ultimately, The Bikeriders is a film worth seeing for its rich atmosphere, strong performances and the poignant questions it raises about identity, freedom and the bonds that bind us together.

The Bikeriders
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Based on The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon
Produced by Sarah Green, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Arnon Milchan
Starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist; Norman Reedus
Cinematography : Adam Stone
Edited by Julie Monroe
Music by David Wingo
Production companies : Regency Enterprises, New Regency, Tri-State Pictures
Distributed by Focus Features (United States) Universal Pictures (France)
Release dates : August 31, 2023 (Telluride), June 19, 2024 (France), June 21, 2024 (United States)
Running time : 116 minutes

Seen June 5, 2024 at Max Linder Panorama

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