June 17, 2024

GENRE | Austin Butler Rides Off – 'The Bikeriders'

"You'd have to kill me to get this jacket off."
Austin Butler Tom Hardy Jeff Nichols | The Bikeriders
Focus Features / New Regency
Acclaimed Southern filmmaker Jeff Nichols tells his own fictionized Goodfellas-type crime drama inspired by photographer Danny Lyon's 1967 iconic photo book that depicted the sordid real lives of the infamous Illinois-based Outlaws Motorcycle Club throughout the American Midwest. The Bikeriders revives New Hollywood's freewheelin' Easy Rider era of counterculture material about hanging out while bike riding and looking ultracool in leather and denim.

Set in 1960s Chicago, the film stars the handsomely boyish Austin Butler and top-billed Jodie Comer as Benny and Kathy, a young new member of the Vandals MC and his civilian wife being interviewed by a fictional version of Lyon (Mike Faist) about how she got entangled into the biker gang subculture years later as a narrative framing device. We see The Bikeriders through her eyes as the film follows a decade in their lives during the rise and inevitable fall of this outlaw motorcycle club and how it evolved from a found family of local outcasts looking for a belonging into a violent organized crime syndicate with chapters across the midwest.

As the Vandals proceed through the years, Tom Hardy's Johnny, the club's founder, and his quietly stoic leadership become threatened along with his original vision for an idyllic way of life inspired by Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Co-starring regular collaborator Michael Shannon, Boyd Holbrook, and many familiar faces, Nichols introduces a colourful cast of characters played by a murderers' row of talented actors. These performances are highlighted by a healthy mix of machismo-brimming toughness and a surprising amount of male vulnerability.

The Bikeriders memorializes a bygone midcentury counterculture best remembered on celluloid through black-and-white photography. Nichols captures a moment perfectly isolated in time representing society's crux of changing societal shifts told through his engaging period crime tale. However, as a recollection gathered through Lyon's oral history and interviews, it works more as a piece of mythmaking rather than history. There's a clear sense of qualified nostalgia for a time and place that was ever particularly desirable while still evoking a mid-'60s sense of coolness.


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