June 21, 2024

tom hardy, austin butler, jodie comer, the bikeriders, jeff nichols


Jeff Nichols taps a certain type of Americana with his tactile, evocative films, and his adaptation of Danny Lyon’s seminal photo-essay book, The Bikeriders, is an artistic collaboration that quickens the pulse as much as the guttural rev of a classic Harley Davidson. Lyon tracked a group of bikers in 60s Chicago and readers could practically smell the engine oil and hair grease in his black-and-white photos of meets and the outlier community formed around them. Nichols has taken that aesthetic and run with it, crafting a screenplay that explores identity, social tribes, loyalty, lust and the thrill of the open road in a love triangle formed between three stars operating at full wattage.

Seen through the eyes of Kathy (Jodie Comer) as she looks back on her romance with maverick Benny (Austin Butler), this patchwork of moments straddle a decade as biker gang, the Vandals, grow from a grassroots outfit to a State-wide, and increasingly violent, operation. As Kathy tells it – in a brawny Chicago idiolect Comer has expertly lifted directly from Lyon’s own interviews with the real woman – she must share Benny with the road and gang leader, Johnny (Tom Hardy, doing some of his best work). The process of trying to tie him down parallels the difficulty of halting the brutal evolution of the vandals: Benny is a man who is all feral instinct and doesn’t want to be anything to anyone, the gang cannot remain as ‘riding club’ as Johnny first conceived it without a tough new kingpin. As Kathy tries to pin Benny down to domesticity, Johnny tries to woo him to leadership…

tom hardy, austin butler, jodie comer, the bikeriders, jeff nichols
tom hardy, austin butler, jodie comer, the bikeriders, jeff nichols

Adam Stone’s cinematography echoes Lyon’s cool pictures as a stellar cast breathe intricate life into snapshots of characters in the gang. Michael Shannon is alpha hurt as Zipco, a man who hates ‘pinko college kids’ but smarts from being rejected by the army. Boyd Holbrook exudes zen (and the art of motorcycle maintenance) as Cal, the gang’s mechanic. Norman Reedus does bad teeth and hippy impishness as Funny Sonny, a California big-hair. Building on his menace in Babyteeth and The Royal Hotel, Toby Wallace brings chaos energy; and Mike Faist, Emery Cohen and Damon Herriman make impressions despite practical cameos.

But the film belongs to a trifecta of charisma. Hardy, a reluctant hardman with a soft core and a gut-punch of a narrative arc. Butler, giving a bad boy heartthrob emotional depth while understanding his role as an archetype. Comer, flexing her considerable skills and more than matching her on-screen partners. When the trio interact the atmosphere crackles and glows like the embers of the numerous cigarettes they smoke. A meet-cute between Kathy and Benny and a conversation between Benny and Johnny are matched in their erotic charge, and the space between their silences speak volumes. And when they’re riding gleaming chrome bikes into the vanishing point of midwest roads as vintage needle-drops play…

It’s the sort of character-led cinema Hollywood would have you believe is as consigned to the past as a ‘65 panhead Harley. That textured, gritty storytelling that immerses audiences in a specific world without spoon feeding. And a showcase for artists onscreen and off (that cinematography, Erin Benach’s precise costumes, Chad Keith’s period perfect production design) who will surely be shortlisted come awards season.

Be warned, it will make you want to buy a bike…

tom hardy, austin butler, jodie comer, the bikeriders, jeff nichols

The Bikeriders directed by Jeff Nichols staring Tom Hardy, Austin Butler and Jodie Comer is in cinemas now

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