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'The Bikeriders' movie review: Aiming for Cult affection

Updated on: 21 June,2024 05:21 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Johnson Thomas |

'The Bikeriders' movie review: It is a vividly resplendent exploration of subculture, group dynamics between hardened rebels, loyalty and the burden of leadership

'The Bikeriders' movie review: Aiming for Cult affection

Still from The Bikeriders

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'The Bikeriders' movie review: Aiming for Cult affection

Film: The Bikeriders
Cast: Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist, Boyd Holbrook, Norman Reedus, Michael Abbott Jr., Damon Herriman, Beau Knapp, Emory Cohen, Karl Glusman,Toby Wallace, Happy Anderson, Paul Sparks.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 118 min

This one’s a subtle Johnny(Tom Hardy) and Benny (Austin Butler) homo-masochistic love story. Benny, the blue-eyed James Dean-like stereotype of existential freedom exhibits a laconic kind of sadness as he haunts us through  his wife, Kathy’s (Jodie Comer) account of life with ‘The Chicago Vandals motorcycle club’ dominated by Johnny. Since the gang consisted mainly of uneducated men who let their bikes do the talking, Kathy becomes the obvious choice to tell this story. Jodie Comer justifies that confidence with a riveting sassy, sceptical tone that lends sublime heft to this telling.

This film based on Danny Lyon’s 1967 book of photographs and interviews taken of a real gang, has Kathy narrating to Lyons ( Mike Faist) regarding her meeting up and falling instantly in love and marriage with Benny while recounting how the biker gang evolved from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s, after which the gang took a turn for the worse. We get to see their world through her eyes. Jeff Nichols and team make this a typical fictional reproduction of the outlaw biker movie of the 50’s and 60’s. There are obvious references/tributes to László Benedek’s The Wild One, and also to Easy Rider, as both get a mention here.

The narrative opens in a bar where Benny is attacked by two hefty locals who want him to take off his ‘colours’. That fight is left behind as the narrative then cuts to Kathy’s first beholding of Benny, and the thrill she experiences as she rides behind him on his bike while surrounded by The Vandals lead by Johnny, all on their mean throbbing machines. The senior members of The Vandals are then introduced before their individual tragedies begin to unfold. The memorably tragic ones being Emory Cohen’s ‘Cockroach’, who claims to eat bugs, and Michael Shannon’s Zipco, middle-aged, and mentally not all quite there. The slow paced narrative feeds the audience more such unique individual stories as part of the vignettes being assembled for the book.

The writer-director focuses on multiple characters and plotlines, peppering the narrative with edgy sequences, including a fight between Johnny and a man twice his size and a scene where Benny’s foot is almost decapitated. The narrative is also imbued with poignant lyricism, thanks to an appropriate period enhancing musical score and the broodingly opaque central love triangle. There’s also a reckless outlaw fatalism underpinning this narrative.

There’s no criticism or romanticism in Nichols’ representation of the subgenre. The Bikeriders is a vividly resplendent exploration of subculture, group dynamics between hardened rebels, loyalty and the burden of leadership. Nichols’ script speaks loud of the individualised conflicts represented here. The movie in fact, feels like a character study of the gang members. The drama therefore was a little thin and the deliberate attempt at mystery feels compromised. The sound design, David Wingo’s memorable score, Julie Monroe’s freeze frame studded editing and cinematography by frequent collaborator Adam Stone who lenses the Midwest in cool blues and sunlight hues, are the most worthies here. The grungy,  grease-smeared, testosterone-laden machismo of the biker world is thus brought to life forcibly enough. Austin Butler, and Tom Hardy deliver pensive, brooding stylised performances that keep the mystery, mood and momentum going. This film basically heralds the glory days of a Midwestern motorcycle gang’s dangerously closed world, with a play of cool images and a supercilious attitude. And that’s its main lure!

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