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‘Bikeriders’ Nails Gang Subculture, Fuzzy Moral Compass

Austin Butler gets too little to do in otherwise absorbing slice of the '60s

There’s something about a motorcycle that transcends time.

The not-so-subtle hum of the engine. The wind in your hair. The way women turn as a bike roars past.

“The Bikeriders,” inspired by a photo book of a late ’60s motorcycle club, cops to all of the above. Toxic masculinity, you say? Of course, it is.

Director Jeff Nichols explores the humanity of the era’s biker clubs, armed with actors who nail their inner lives.

What’s missing? An epic storyline and more scenes for an actor on the rise, namely “Elvis” alum Austin Butler.

THE BIKERIDERS - Official Trailer 2 [HD] - Only In Theaters June 21

“The Bikeriders” is told through the eyes of Kathy (Jodie Comer), the tough but accessible wife of Vandals biker Benny (Butler). She recalls the biker gang’s evolution for a journalist (Mike Faist), although the story is hardly told in chronological order.

The twists and turns are easy to spot, but the crooked timeline feels precious.

Kathy seems like a prim gal until she spots Benny leaning on a billiards table amidst a sea of leather-clad bikers. She’s agog at his bare arms and carefree spirit. Their courtship is quick and certain, though the film never fully explains why she’d endure the biker gal life beyond that potentially fatal attraction.

That’s a problem.

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Far better is the gang’s founder, Johnny (Tom Hardy, pitch perfect as always). He’s sanguine about his leadership role, but that doesn’t stop him from protecting his fellow Vandals or ignoring the letter of the law.

Fist fights abound. Bones are broken. Revenge is served. It’s all part of life as a Vandal. And if you think you’re watching a bunch of man-children who rage against adulthood, you’re partially right.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols isn’t here to judge. His camera captures it all, letting audiences tease out the larger themes at work.

Pain. Loss. Fear. Loneliness. Abandonment. And alcohol. Lots of alcohol.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Nichols isn’t interested in a traditional storyline. It’s roughly eight years in the life of the Vandals, and the late ’60s/early ’70s culture only pops up now and then.

You won’t find extended references to race relations, the Vietnam War or Flower Power marches. The focus is tight and unrelenting, and Nichols isn’t afraid to show why we’re drawn to this subculture.

Compare it to your average mob movie. There’s violence, whackings and other execrable behavior. And when a biker is in trouble, he’ll suddenly find himself surrounded by his fellow bikers when it matters most.

“The Bikeriders” seems like the next step in Butler’s rise to movie stardom. First, “Elvis.” Then, stealing scenes in “Dune: Part Two.” Now, a tough and tender biker learning lessons the hard way.

Always.

Yet the story keeps pulling away from Benny just when we need him. The film demands more moments with Benny and Kathy, quieter scenes where they reveal how much they need each other.

Instead, it’s back to the supporting players. They’re a hoot, especially Michael Shannon as a towering soul mourning how his country told him he’s unfit to fight in Vietnam.

Comer is our entry into this hardscrabble world, and she’s never less than authentic. So, too, is a wannabe Vandal (Toby Wallace) who burns with a rage that can’t be contained.

“The Bikeriders” acknowledges the glamour of the biker lifestyle without lionizing its bad-boy types. That’s fascinating all by itself.

HiT or Miss: “The Bikeriders” is sensitive and tough, a film that acknowledges the charcoal-gray morality behind both biker clubs and the men who wear their jackets.

One Comment

  1. Disney was originally gonna release this under 20th Century, they’re reasoning beyond the strikes were apparently the failure of The Creator, though it’s possible the film could have been too masculine for the studio

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