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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Bikeriders (M) - 116 minutes

Inspired by the reflections of a photojournalist who spent four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, The Bikeriders is about testosterone.

 

It is based around a fictional biker gang known as the Vandals and its founder, Johnny Davis (Tom Hardy).

 

Married with two children, he is a truck driver, although all we see of him is as the brooding and ruthless leader.

 

His most trusted associate is thrill seeker Benny Cross (Austin Butler), who says little but never shies away from a fight.

The story unfolds between 1965 and 1973 through interviews conducted by the photojournalist I referenced earlier with club members and their partners.

 

In particular, the focus is on Benny’s wife Kathy (Jodie Comer), who meets Benny by chance at a bar frequented by the gang.

 

At the time she has a boyfriend, but a moment later he is gone, only to be replaced by Benny, who literally parks himself on her doorstep.

 

The intimidation she felt by the bikers when she first entered the bar is gone. Five weeks later she marries Benny.

We see how the club was formed and how important a role it plays in the members’ lives.

 

Put simply, to many it is the be all and end all. They include Johnny and Benny, but we get potted portraits of others too.

 

Soon chapters of the Vandals are springing up all over the Midwest, but not before Johnny is challenged to a fist fight for control of the Chicago operation.

 

Benny’s loyalty to Johnny is tested after the former is stood over in a bar for wearing club colours and subsequently badly injured outside.

Thereafter, Benny’s relationship with Kathy gets a workout.

 

Violence and fear are significant parts of the gang’s culture and that is manifest throughout The Bikeriders.

 

Having said that, they have their own rules of engagement, which although intimidatory are nothing on the new generation, coming to supplant them.

 

The latter are sinister, whereas you get the feeling that writer and director Jeff Nicols (Loving, Take Shelter) maintains a respect for the original gang.

 

Nichols’ starting point was Danny Lyon’s seminal 1968 book.


Adopting a strong Midwestern accent, Jodie Comer is compelling as, arguably, the heartbeat of the film.


As Kathy, she tells the riders’ story, warts and all, proud, unashamed and without pretense.

 

Her character has a fearless quality about her.

 

Tom Hardy is measured, hardened and astute as Johnny, a man with a world-weary look about him.

 

As Benny, Austin Butler is a picture of fire and restraint. He is enigmatic. James Dean move over.

 

His explosions of pique contrast sharply with that of a fella who wants to be left to his own devices.

Among the standouts in the cast is Michael Shannon as Zipco, a gang member who doesn’t run with college boys.

 

There is a lyrical quality to the storytelling, which details the start and end of an era.

 

Cinematographer Adam Stone has done a fine job capturing the spirit of the nation at the time.

 

Rated M, The Bikeriders scores a 7½ out of 10.

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