The Bikeriders

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language, constant f-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, constant smoking, marijuana, brief image of character using heroin
Violence/ Scariness: Very strong and graphic violence, fights, knives, guns, accidents, attempted rape, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Toxic masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024
The Bikeriders
Copyright 2024 Focus

Writer/director Jeff Nichols tells the story of a Chicago motorcycle gang through the recorded interviews of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who married one of the Vandals five weeks after meeting him, and stayed with him through the brawls, arrests, and accidents. “The Bikeriders” is based on the book of photographs by Danny Lyons, who followed the Vandals from 1965-73. Lyons is played in the film by Mike Faist, who makes the most of a role that is mostly listening while holding a microphone from a reel-to-reel recorder, showing Lyons as curious but sympathetic.

The bike rider Kathy married is Benny (Austin Butler), who we first see refusing the demand of two very big guys in a bar, who tell him to remove his “colors,” the denim gang jacket with the patch on the front of a hand giving the finger and the gang’s name and a skull on the back. He is badly beaten (we find out how badly when the scene recurs after a flashback that brings us up to that date). As we learn with Kathy, Benny’s core attribute is that nothing matters to him but riding with the Vandals.

The leader of the bikeriders is Johnny (Tom Hardy), the only one who has a job and a family. He saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” on television, responding to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” with the essence of cool, “Whatdaya got?” He creates The Vandals, and like the Jets in “West Side Story” and the goodfellas in the movie of that name, it becomes a family for its members, with a sense of belonging, of home, of manhood.

And as in so many other stories, and so many other lives, it is great until it is not. The success of the Vandals inspires other bikeriders in other areas to want to join. And then it inspires a younger generation to want to join, and to be tougher and take bigger risks than Johnny’s original group. That group smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The Vietnam veterans who join smoke weed and sometimes shoot heroin.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols said that the most interesting character in the book is Kathy. Her tape-recorded interviews with Lyons were unusually candid and her perspective as an outsider who saw everything and spent much of her time with the Vandals but was not a part of them appealed to him, and he decided to tell the story from her perspective, making one big change. He set up something of a love triangle, with the Vandals being the third side. A key scene in the film has Kathy asking Johnny to kick Benny out of the Vandals so she can have him all to herself.

The movie is shot superbly by Adam Stone, with powerful images throughout. A lone cycle running out of gas by a cornfield. An intimate conversation between Benny and Johnny, illuminated by firelight. Every performance is outstanding. Jodie Comer delivers another impeccable accent, and she makes Kathy simple but not unintelligent. She does not spend time thinking about motivations or consequences, but she is direct and honest, making her an idea navigator for Lyons and for us. As Benny, Butler has a challenge in playing a character who is not expressive. But he shows us how magnetic he is for both Kathy and the Vandals. When he recognizes his limits and when he finally shows some emotion, Butler makes it organic and meaningful. There is strong support from Michael Shannon and a near-unrecognizable Norman Reedus as bikeriders.

The film may not be as meaningful as Nichols intends, but it is a strong story, well-told, and worth the ride.

Parents should know that this fact-based movie is very violent, with characters injured and killed and disturbing and graphic images, including brawls, knives, guns, accidents, and attempted rape. Characters use constant strong language, drink, smoke, and use marijuana and, briefly, heroin.

Family discussion: What did the club mean to Johnny? To Benny? To the younger people who joined?

If you like this, try: “Goodfellas,” “The Wild One,” “Biker Boyz,” and “Why We Ride” and Lyons’ book.

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