Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV


  • July 1, 2024
  • 5 min read

Some great films contain an aspect of understated brilliance. This facet is revealed at the end of the feature without spoiling the plot

The Bikeriders is set in a glowing, ever autumnal Midwest USA, during the mid 1960’s. This genre movie is threaded throughout by the mainstay interviewer Danny Lyon, a 1960’s ‘American Counter Culture’ photographer who famously chronicled a Chicago Biker Chapter, The Outlaws, over three years for his own acclaimed Biker photography book. Lyon hung-out with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club in “An attempt to record and glorify the life of American Bikeriders”. All done after taking advice from Hunter S. Thompson who had already spent a year with the Hells Angels for his own book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

The Bikeriders (2024)

Here, writer director Jeff Nichols creates a less ‘glorified’ narrative, in order to capture the so-called real life ‘outsiders’ who became actual Biker gang members. Fictionalised here as The Vandals MC, this Biker movie is described at its opening as being ‘inspired by true events’. Mike Faist is cast as Danny Lyon the reporter-photographer. The movie begins in earnest with his questioning of Kathy (Jody Comer) who is the Biker Girlfriend to Benny (Austin Butler) a coiffed blonde dude of few words, acting very much in the spirit of his movie role as Elvis. Meanwhile, the ongoing scenario of Kathy talking with interviewer Danny sets-up a ‘looking back’ narrative, which intercuts neatly throughout the film

A key reference point is seen on a Black & White TV screen, showing a clip from the 1950’s Biker movie The Wild One. Marlon Brando is asked, “What are you rebelling against?” He replies, “Whaddya got?”

Admired by Biker pretty-boy Benny, a rare use of slow motion (known as ‘overcranking the camera’) sees Kathy’s moment of transition into a Biker Girl. This is captured when sat astride Benny’s motorbike. In the blinking of an eye Kathy nestles into Benny’s back. A directorial touch, which focuses-in on the actual split second that Kathy changes into both a Gang Girl and as the new Girlfriend of Benny. This is neatly done in one single slow motion shot.

Comer, a 31 year old Liverpool born “actress of our generation” (The Independent) seems to assume a New Jersey accent, echoing Lorraine Bracco in both The Sopranos and The Goodfellas. The latter being a film, which, in terms of gang culture, is clearly a point of reference, alongside Carlito’s Way.

A great cameo comes from Michael Shannon (Zipco) who wanted to fight in Vietnam, but was turned down. Aggrieved, Zipco complains to The Vandals about, “College kids who didn’t want to fight in Vietnam”, but still got conscripted. Much of the film, however, focuses-in on either gang in-fighting, understated gang rules, and mutual bonhomie. This is evidenced at chapter house meetings and at outdoor campfire gatherings. Some of these scenes appear to be too improvisational and workshop-like, causing the storyline to meander off at tangents. Relevant or not? The film slows down here for too long, and the narrative plods as a result.

The Ever Changing Decade – The 1960’s

The changing face of America, during the rapidly moving 1960’s, is certainly captured, nonetheless, with a strong visual style in the first half of the film. This is driven along by a stunning raft of period records, providing a back-to-back soundtrack as key scenes unfold. Kudos also to cameraman Adam Stone who pays homage to Lyon’s photography, shooting much of this film when the sun is either rising or setting. The golden hour look is truly magnificent. So too are the Midwest locations, which echo the spirit of that ‘lost era’ of Rock ‘n’ Roll America seen in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Kathryn Bigelow’s Loveless.

A twelve strong location team was headed by one Deirdre Costa (Location Scout) and doppelganger Jane Streeter (Location Manager) who all deserve to be singled-out for special praise for finding these period buildings and timeslip locations. Surely there should be Academy Award Category for Location Managers? Sadly, there isn’t one.

The closing scenes, which I’ll not impart here, begin with an out-of-shot TV appearing to comment upon a particular situation. All in anticipation of what is about to unfold. Once again we see some deftly directed scenes, until the conclusion. Stunningly executed and brilliantly performed by co-star, Tom Hardy – The Vandals reluctant leader, Johnny. Here we have a truly hypnotic masterclass in screen acting. The trick he pulls? He plays this role as if the character is someone we might’ve actually known all of our lives. There is a universality in our collective empathy for Johnny. A fictional character that we’ve never personally met. Yet Hardy pulls-off this sense of our ‘knowing’ this ‘regular guy’ via his brooding spirit of restraint that’s about to bubble over like a festering volcano.

A 2025 BAFTA for Tom Hardy? It would certainly be well deserved. Meanwhile, The Bikeriders is currently screening as a London cinema release, only. So see it on the Big Screen now.

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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