Film Review: The Bikeriders – 9/10

‘I’ve been thinking, I can’t run this club forever. I’ve built this from nothing. This is our family..’

It’s rare for a film to come along and instantly feel like a classic. Often it takes a while for pop culture to soak something up and spit it out clean. Sometimes a bit of distance is required for a film to be fully appreciated. Well, Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders comes fully formed as one of the best films to hit cinemas of the decade so far…

The eponymous bike riders in this instance are the notorious Vandals Motorcycle Club. Headed up by their inscrutable leader Johnny (Tom Hardy), The Bikeriders charts the humble beginnings of the Vandals through to their natural end point. We hear this tale second hand through Kathy (Jodie Comer) – the wife of Johnny’s trusted lieutenant Benny (Austin Butler) – as told to photography student Danny Lyon (Mike Faist).

Based on Chicago’s own Outlaws Motorcycle Club as well as a book of photographs published by Lyon in real life, The Bikeriders is a fascinating and utterly gripping glimpse into a lifestyle that has all but become pastiche when presented on screen. Nichols does an incredible job of making these characters feel real and lived in. The smell of gasoline and exhaust smoke comes billowing out of the screen and there is an authenticity here often missing from biker movies.

The cast are incredible. Hardy channels his inner Marlon Brando in one of his most convincing performances yet. Butler continues his hot streak, playing Benny as carved out of rock until a key final moment in the third act, but Comer steals the show. This is a spell-binding virtuoso performance from the British actress and it confirms her transformation from rising star to an actor firing on all cylinders and eating at the top table. She is at once self-assured, vulnerable and quietly sensual. She smoulders alongside Butler – a ridiculously beautiful man – and it is their relationship, and her female perspective that ensures that The Bikeriders is more than just Easy Rider meets Goodfellas (although it is indebted to both). The supporting cast are excellent too. Micheal Shannon brings a pained stoicism to his bad luck story as Zipco. Norman Reedus is suitably gross as interloper Funny Sonny. And this is the tip of the iceberg. Every part here is played to perfection. Every character feels vital. I could watch these characters interacting together for hours.

The Bikeriders is a captivating glimpse into masculinity, motorbikes and misogyny in America during the 60s and 70s. This is vital cinema.