Inspired by a book of photographs portraying a motorcycle gang in the 1960s, American director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) imagined the lives behind the images that impressed him so strongly and brought the result to London, after the feature’s premiere at Telluride.
Fascinated with the Chicago Vandals, college student Danny (Mike Faist) decides to record the stories he is being told as he takes the bike riders’ pictures. During the course of interviews with his subjects, he becomes increasingly interested in Kathy’s (Jodie Comer) relationship with Benny (Austin Butler), as well as the group’s internal policies, as they expand with more chapters emerging in different cities.
Unfortunately, any real development of the main couple’s love story is sacrificed for a quick laugh, as Kathy completes a recount of their first meeting with, “Five weeks later, I married him.” Altogether, the intended tone of the feature is not immediately apparent: in large part, the dialogue seems fairly silly and Tom Hardy clearly took most of his scenes as comedy, while Butler plays his part subdued and earnest. Eventually, the direction finds its balance and the most compelling scenes unfold between Comer and Hardy, as their characters subtly practice psychological warfare. Each try to win over Benny after a severe leg injury threatens his riding abilities, but the predicament of a wife’s fear for safety seen as an attempt to clip her partner’s wings is nothing particularly innovative.
Anticipated themes of masculinity and clannishness are mostly subverted, as day-to-day experiences are depicted as excessively violent. The violence is barely vindicated and never glamorised: the perpetrators look genuinely uncool as they throw punches and try to break bones. On the one hand, this decision is commendable as it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable realities of organisations on the edge of legality. The overall flaw in the design is that if one doesn’t go into the film with a pre-existing interest in motorcycles or gangs, Nichols makes no effort to convince you to care.
The Bikeriders is released nationwide on 1st December 2023.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Bikeriders here: