Review: ‘The Bikeriders’ and the Moral Drift of Human Nature

Review: ‘The Bikeriders’ and the Moral Drift of Human Nature June 18, 2024

Jeff Nichols’ latest venture, “The Bikeriders,” roars into theaters with an evocative portrayal of the 1960s motorcycle subculture, starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, and Tom Hardy. This film, rooted in Americana, immerses audiences in the gritty, rebellious world of the Vandals motorcycle club, capturing the essence of an era defined by its outcasts and adrenaline junkies.

(L to R) Emory Cohen as Cockroach, Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

From the opening scene, the cinematography and the thunderous rumble of motors transport viewers back to a time when leather-clad bikers ruled the roads. Nichols’ direction ensures that every frame is soaked in the period’s atmosphere, making “The Bikeriders” not just a film but an experience.

At its heart, “The Bikeriders” is a tale of identity and purpose. The Vandals, societal castoffs, find their haven in the motorcycle club, a place where they belong and find meaning. This subculture, though fraught with danger and lawlessness, becomes their family. The film deftly explores this duality—rebels creating their own laws and trading societal rules for the club’s code of conduct.

Austin Butler’s portrayal of Benny is both magnetic and poignant. Riding high on his success from “Elvis” and “Flyboys,” Butler captures the conflicted spirit of a man torn between his love for the club and his desire for a safer life. However, it is Tom Hardy’s Johnny and Jodie Comer’s Kathy who form the emotional core of the film. Hardy, with his impeccable accent and brooding presence, plays Johnny as a leader who fears the monster he has helped create. Comer’s Kathy, driven by her love for Benny, emerges as a formidable character willing to shatter Benny’s heart to save him. The tug-of-war for Benny’s soul between Kathy and Johnny is both heartrending and riveting.

Michael Shannon’s Zipco provides a deeper understanding of the bikers’ psyche. His character, steeped in contempt for authority and academia, reveals his own rejection and insecurities, which are quelled by his inclusion in the Vandals. This insight into Zipco’s mindset enriches the narrative, highlighting the club’s allure for those who feel marginalized.

Based on Danny Lyon’s book, “The Bikeriders” chronicles a decade in the evolution of the Vandals, from a carefree group of speed enthusiasts to a menacing criminal gang. This transformation is a poignant commentary on human nature and societal change. The film poignantly captures how the club’s initial live-and-let-live ethos is eroded by the darker currents of selfishness and discontentment prevalent in a time of political, economic, and social upheaval.

As Johnny senses the drift towards corruption, his desire to leave rather than confront the inevitable decay adds a layer of tragic inevitability to the story. Benny, in contrast, successfully escapes, driven by his love for Kathy and a yearning for a better life for his family.

Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders,” rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use, and brief sexuality, is a blend of action, drama, and period authenticity. Releasing on June 21 from Focus Features, it stands out not just for its star-studded cast and compelling performances but also for its unflinching portrayal of a subculture defined by its contradictions. It is a powerful reminder of how the search for identity and belonging can lead to both camaraderie and chaos, making it an entertaining and educational narrative for fans of character-driven stories and historical dramas alike.

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