The Bikeriders Review

As a member of society, we want to belong to something. Whether it is the local gym, a parent group, or hanging out with people who share similar interests, we want to feel like we belong. This is what Johnny, played by Tom Hardy, did in The Bikeriders. He created a motorcycle club where like-minded men could ride their motorcycles together. Unbeknownst to Johnny, what started with good intentions slowly morphed into something far opposite of what it was supposed to be.

The Bikeriders is based on the photography book by Danny Lyon. The book is a visual and oral history of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, known as The Vandals in the movie. Danny followed the club around for 4 years, taking photos of them and interviewing certain members. Jeff Nichols came across the book 20 years ago and felt it would make an interesting story. When he came across an updated version of the book there was a forward in it by the author updating on what has happened to the club since the book was published. These stories are what helped shape the film and its narrative.

Tom Hardy stars as Johnny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features Release.
Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

The film is told from the point of view of Kathy, played with a thick midwestern accent by Jodie Comer. She recounts to Danny how she met Benny, played by Austin Butler, and how she became a part of the Vandals. Through Kathy, we are the outsider who gets to see how the sausage is made and learn about the beginnings of the Vandals. We learn how Johnny was the normal one of the group due to him having a day job, wife, and kids. The other members of the group didn’t have anyone or at least had anyone permanent in their lives.

It is in these interviews and observations that we learn more about the members of the group. We see how they all felt like outsiders or undesirables and wanted to be a part of something. The core members of the Vandals are the heart of the story as we see them grow with the group. These members are loyal to Johnny and as times change their loyalty does not but they also know that these times won’t last forever. Among the members, there is a stand-out moment by Zipco, played by Michael Shannon. Just like Shannon did in Revolutionary Road, he commands the screen for a few minutes with a monologue that just guts you and shows you that all these men want is to be part of something big.

Other than the amazing performances of the actors are the spectacular bikes. The production notes state that the men learned to ride bikes with stunt coordinator, Jeff Milburn, and some of the bikes used in the movie were from his personal collection. All of these bikes are beautiful to look at and if you are a fan of motorcycles you will love seeing these machines on the screen. Also, hearing these engines roar in the theater is an audible treat. Listening to one bike ride on the screen is pretty loud but when the entire group is together it is practically deafening.

The cinematography in this movie is beautiful. Whether it is seeing the vast landscape as the men ride their bikes in rural areas or seeing the sunsets as they gather for their annual picnics. We see during the end credits how many of the shots in the film were taken directly from the photographs. It is this attention to detail that makes this film by Nichols feel more like a documentary at times than a film.

Emory Cohen as Cockroach, Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols’ THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Feature release. Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features.

The Bikeriders is not just a movie about a motorcycle club, it is a movie about finding belonging in this world and how those around you will never fully understand this. With the character of Benny, we learn that as much as he feels he doesn’t care and only acts on impulse, there is something in him that knows there is more to life than that. Kathy teaches us that sometimes you need to go through hell to appreciate what you have. While she fought with Johnny for Benny’s attention, once she got Benny things were not the way they used to be. Johnny’s character is the tragic one because he created something with good intentions and ultimately saw it destroyed.

Final Thoughts: The Bikeriders is a cautionary tale of how something pure can become tainted and destroyed within itself. Through the narration of Kathy, we learn about how the Vandals went from being a bike club to a notorious gang that had their hands in multiple illegal activities. The performances of Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy are magnificent while Auston Butler does his best smoldering to show the Yang to Hardy’s Ying. With breathtaking scenery, The Bikeriders will give you a good insight into the motorcycle club cultures.

Kid-Friendly: This film would be better aimed at children 17 and up. The theme of loyalty and companionship are universal and they can learn about that through the film. Kids can also relate to wanting to belong to something greater than them.

Violence: The movie is rated R for its amount of violence. There are some bloody fights, shootings, drug use, drinking, and an attempted rape scene.

THE BIKERIDERS follows the rise of a midwestern motorcycle club, the Vandals. Seen through the lives of its members, the club evolves over the course of a decade from a gathering place for local outsiders into a more sinister gang, threatening the original group’s unique way of life.

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