a group of motorcycle bikers on an open road

‘The Bikeriders’ is all Rev with No Engine

Reviewed by Chris Corey
June 25, 2024

The Bikeriders

★ ★

This film is inspired by a book of the same title by Danny Lyon, which is a collection of photographs and transcribed interviews from 1963 to 1967. The movie follows a similar format, a collection of scenes and sequences that only tie together insomuch as they circle around a Chicago motorcycle club.

As such, there is no plot or narrative to drive a cinematic story forward, nor does the film take time to develop a meaningful backstory for any of its characters. A collage of stories and photos probably make for a fine book, but it doesn’t work as a movie.

The script could have picked just about any of the characters in this film to build a story around, add some depth and motivation to the character and find a way to connect it through the collage of stories the book is known for.

Johnny and Benny talk about the club next to their bikes

Johnny and Benny talk about the club.
© 2024 Focus Features

By themselves, some of the scenes are intriguing and entertaining, but there’s no substance that binds them.

The Bikeriders opens in 1965 Chicago where Benny (Austin Butler) wears a Vandals Motorcycle Club jacket inside a dive bar. Two men take offense to his “colors” and demand he remove them. Benny refuses and is taken outside where a two-on-one fight ensues, during which he mostly gets punched and kicked around. Benny manages to pull a knife from his boot and cuts one of the men in the face before he’s hit on the back of the head with a shovel. Then the screen goes black.

Next, we’re at a laundromat where Danny Lyon (Mike Faist) is interviewing wives of The Vandals, mainly Benny’s wife, Kathy (Jodie Comer). She tells Danny how she met Benny – She was delivering something to a friend at a bar the Vandals frequent where she’s harassed, hit on and given every good reason to get out of there as fast as possible.

Of course, she stays, and the Vandal’s president, Johnny (Tom Hardy), tells her he won’t let anything happen to her. Benny convinces her to go for a ride on his motorcycle, and it isn’t until that morning when he takes her back home where her angry boyfriend waits on the front porch. After she goes inside with her boyfriend, we can hear them arguing. Benny leans on his bike, smokes a cigarette and just waits.

Benny leans against his bike and waits for Kathy outside her home

Benny waits for Kathy.
© 2024 Focus Features

Now daylight, Benny’s been waiting outside for hours. Cigarette butts have piled up at his feet. The boyfriend leaves for work and Benny keeps waiting outside. Later that afternoon, the boyfriend returns from work to find Benny still there, further infuriating the boyfriend who goes inside, grabs his belongings and calls it quits with Kathy.

Honestly, it’s a strange sequence.

Dave Lyon interviews Kathy outside her home

Dave as he interviews Kathy.
© 2024 Focus Features

What prompts Benny to wait outside for hours on end for Kathy isn’t clear. I suppose it shows he’s patient enough to wait for an opportunity. Red flag warnings apparently aren’t a thing for Kathy, because five weeks later she marries Benny.

The idea for The Vandals came to Johnny while watching Easy Rider while his wife knitted on the couch. That’s close to all the backstory we’re given on why he starts the club.

We’re given pieces of story that, had they been fleshed out, would make for a compelling film: The rise of the club, its national notoriety, Johnny’s struggle holding onto leadership, Kathy trying to keep her marriage together without losing Benny to the club.

Kathy and Benny talk amongst a woodpile

Kathy and Benny.
© 2024 Focus Features

Kathy’s attempt to keep her marriage afloat is the closest we get to any real character motivation. Otherwise, we don’t know why Johnny felt compelled to start the club, why it’s important for him to keep it going or what he’s trying to accomplish with it. We don’t know why Benny would lean on his motorcycle waiting so long for Kathy. The film gives us very little as to why these two love each other or why we should care that their marriage lasts.

The cinematography is well done and combined with convincing set design does a great job of pulling us into the world of a 1960s bike club.

a close up of Kathy in The Bikeriders

Kathy interviewed by Dave in the laundromat.
© 2024 Focus Features

Comer does a stellar job portraying Kathy, and her performance alone makes the film. It’s very reminiscent of the way Frances McDormand brought Marge Gunderson to life in Fargo.

It’s a shame Comer didn’t have a better script to hang her performance on because her talented efforts certainly deserved a much better vehicle.

In the end, The Bikeriders is a film with a bunch of scenes of guys in a bike club and the women who love them riding around Chicago suburbs in search of a plot they will never find.

Rated: R (Language Throughout, Brief Sexuality, Some Drug Use, Violence)
Running Time: 1h 56m
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Amy Poehler, Kensington Tallman, Maya Hawke, Phyllis Smith

Crime, Drama

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