The Bikeriders is a nostalgic slow ride through motorcycle culture worth taking.

Austin Butler and Tom Hardy unite for documentary style film The Bikeriders. While the title and subject matter may suggest a big action movie with gang fights and action, the movie does have some of this, but the focus here is on the storytelling. The slow moving tale of how the biker gang was formed and follows its evolution through the years is a fascinating story that is accompanied by some spectacular cinematography from writer/director Jeff Nichols based on a photography book of the same name by photographer and fellow filmmaker Danny Lyon. 

The story is set in Chicago, picking up as Johnny (Hardy) forms a group of guys interested in going on picnics with their wives and girlfriends as they ride their bikes. It’s a fairly simple premise that becomes increasingly complicated when Benny (Butler) joins the club. We are introduced to Benny, who is parked on a bar stool in the movie’s opening moments. As two burly men approach each side and tell him to remove his gang colours, he refuses, and all hell breaks loose as the three throw down. It very much matches the tone of the perceived biker lifestyle. Going back a few years, the film is set in the late 1960s in the midwest in America. The majority of the story is told via narration as Benny’s wife, Kathy (Jodie Comer) as she recalls how she met Benny, how the club was formed and how it changed over the decade into a country-wide gang.

The photographer Danny in the film, played by Mike Faist, also recorded audio along with the photos to be able to really capture the different moments of the club’s phases. It is this that keeps the film flowing at a relatively relaxed pace. Nichols allows the characters moments to breathe, and while Butler and Hardy may be at the forefront, it truly is Comer’s film, as her story and re-telling are what hold it all together. Benny takes Kathy on rides through towns and countryside, allowing himself to showcase a vulnerable side to her through his leather-clad biker exterior. Their story of love and marriage and how his independent spirit of just wanting to take off on a whim is beautifully told as Faist and Comer have their own rhythm that really cements the narrative. 

The rest of the biker crew is made up of Wahoo (Beau Knapp), Cockroach (Emory Cohen), Zipco (Michael Shannon), Corky (Karl Gausman), Vietnam vet Brucie (Damon Herriman) and everyone’s favourite biker to pop up in anything Norman Reedus who plays a Californian migrator to the group. They all have their quirks and get their own time to explain their backstories to Danny and how they came to be in Chicago and join the club. Their tales are told with flashes to the photos taken, which is a constant reminder that this film is a story about a group’s journey rather than a standard action film that is typical of this genre.

Cinematographer Adam Stone captures the midwest and this time period perfectly. The impending “big city” feel as Chicago is growing, set against the shots of bikes riding into vast deserts, makes for some impressive shots on the big screen. The framing of the men and their interactions, particularly Johnny and Benny as they discuss Benny taking over the club as Johnny wants to spend more time with his family. Hardy does infuse his weird tone and pitch of his voice with the toughness of his frame to round out his “family man” character. The discussion here happens at night with the black leather and denim shining in the night, and as the two play their back-and-forth dance, it turns almost homoerotic. Likewise, Butler’s Benny is independent and headstrong and is the “cowboy” of the space, acting solo, not playing well with others and really bringing all of the trouble to the group. Butler portrays this perfectly using the most minimal amount of words and his charm to make this character memorable, with the small amount of screen time that he gets. 

The Bikeriders is an intimate and different take of movies of this genre. Director Jeff Nichols has crafted a slow-moving spaghetti western-style film that puts Comer front and centre of this story. Using big-ticket actors like Butler and Hardy who can play these characters perfectly (Reedus as well!) is the key to holding this film together. While the film does explore the rich history of men and motorcycles in culture, it does so with a romanticised lens that will make you want to jump on a Harley Davidson. 

The Bikeriders is in cinemas July 5th, thanks to Universal Pictures.

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Austin Butler and Tom Hardy unite for documentary style film The Bikeriders. While the title and subject matter may suggest a big action movie with gang fights and action, the movie does have some of this, but the focus here is on the storytelling....The Bikeriders is a nostalgic slow ride through motorcycle culture worth taking.