Nick’s Cinema Verdict: The Bikeriders (Review)

Nick’s Cinema Verdict: The Bikeriders (Review)

“The Bikeriders”

R/Crime/Drama/116 Mins

Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Jodie Comer (“Free Guy”), Tom Hardy (“Venom”), Mike Faist (“Challengers”), Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”), Toby Wallace (“Babyteeth”) and Damon Herriman (“Judy & Punch”)

Synopsis: Set in the mid 1960s to early 1970s, a young photographer follows a midwestern motorcycle club. Interacting with the colorful group of characters, he  documents and gains insight of how their club and their own personal lives have evolved and changed over the years.

Review: When people say they’ve been waiting forever for a movie, this time it really does apply. Nine months ago, the first trailer for “The Bikeriders” was posted online with a wide release by 20th Century Studios set for December of last year. Shortly after, it was removed from release schedule, only for it to be picked up by Focus Features getting pushed back to this summer. It’s been a bumpy road to release but I think it was really worth the wait. I had pretty good expectations going in, but I didn’t expect it to completely blow me away. This is a film you see on the big screen and yet another reason why I love cinema and why we need more films like this getting made.

Since this film is set over the course of 1965-1973, the film has a unique narrative structure which uses the real life figure of Danny Lyon (portrayed by Mike Faist in a small but charismatic role) as a photographer who follows a midwesterner motorcycle club who go by the name, The Vandals. In this structure, the film is told through recounts of events from characters who were there in the years 1965-1969 and then in 1973, following up with what happened since Danny had left. The viewer is like Danny, as he learns about the club and the events that occurred, so does the audience. Recently, I watched a show that did something similar but it felt unfocused and all over the place with each scene hopping around with only a year placed at the bottom of the screen. This film was different in the sense that it had a framing device unlike the former therefore, it was better paced and had a more clear timeline through the unraveling of the narrative.

As the story progresses, you grow closer to this group and the film does a good job having even the smallest role in the group make an impact and really makes you care for this group of troublesome fellas. The leads of this film (Butler, Comer & Hardy) are also all exceptional in their own way. Austin Butler is one of the next great movie stars, and his streak continues. In the role of Benny, he’s a man of few words with a depth of emotion hidden inside for most of the film. Butler is so good at playing it effortlessly cool and uncaring of those around him, giving off a Marlon Brando-esque, old Hollywood performance. Jodie Comer as Benny’s love interest, Kathy is a scene stealer. Trading in her British accent for a midwestern dialect she captivates the audience with her character’s no-nonsense personality and her emotional turmoil as she worries and cares for Benny trying to save him from the ever changing club and himself. Tom Hardy as Johnny is an enigma. He’s brilliant as the leader and founder of The Vandals acting like a father figure to the club protecting them at all costs. He’s also a very layered character where you aren’t entirely sure if he is a good or bad guy. He does some noble things and you do like the character but he is also capable of doing heinous things which makes him a complex character. Funny enough, he also gives off an old Brando vibe compared to Austin’s young Marlon, and it’s not too much of a coincidence his character decided to create the motorcycle club after watching Brando in “The Wild One.” I also wanted to highlight a regular collaborator in Jeff Nichols films, Michael Shannon as Zipco. Shannon shines here in a smaller capacity but he makes the most of his screen time, in particular a very vulnerable scene where he talks about his rejection from the US army during Vietnam. One of the most underrated actors working today.

It’s a shame that most movie theaters don’t screen films on 35mm because if any film deserves to be seen in that format, it’s “The Bikeriders.” The film itself was shot on 35mm Kodak film and the difference between digital and film is evident. The cinematography (Director of Photography, Adam Stone) in this film is breathtaking, with shots of long winding roads and well lit night time scenes at a campfire or a dark shadowy bar show the film grain on display which adds to its 1960s aesthetic. I wish there was a black and white version to release alongside it. Before this film, I was familiar with filmmaker Jeff Nichols, yet I hadn’t seen a film of his. I am now spending my weekend watching his filmography. This is a filmmaker that cares about well written characters and telling a story that never overstays its welcome and is thematically rich with a wide range of emotions conveyed through the screen. Jeff Nichols is a genuine old school filmmaker.

I hoped I would enjoy this film and I walked out with so much more love for it. “The Bikeriders” is hands down going to be included in my top 10 of the year. It is an incredible picture that felt like a classic film, something that we don’t get too often these days. I will be seeing this a few more times in the theater and I hope y’all do the same.

Score: 10/10

The Bikeriders is in theaters June 21st

Link for showtimes here: