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The Bikeriders (2024)—A Gritty and Thoughtful take on Biker Culture

The Bikeriders movie poster

We all enjoy a good love story, some more than others. Yes, even me: the guy who generally hates rom-coms. But we’re not talking about a rom-com here, we’re talking about a love story involving one man and two loves. Now I don’t mean two different women, no, no. That would be too generic. I mean his love for a woman and his love for riding. Director Jeff Nichols’ newest film The Bikeriders explores just what happens when a man is forced to make that very hard decision.

Benny (played by Austin Butler) is a young man who is a member of a biker gang in the Midwest called The Vandals. One day he meets a strong-willed young woman named Kathy (played by Jodie Comer) and the two shortly marry. As the gang grows larger, spanning chapters across the entire U.S., the gang leader, Johnny (played by Tom Hardy) begins looking towards Benny to take over the gang. Due to the gang’s growing influx of younger and more violent members, The Vandals evolve from a gathering of outsiders to a dangerous street gang. This, along with Kathy’s insistence on him leaving forces Benny to choose between life with Kathy and life as a Vandal.


Johnny and Benny from The Bikeriders

When I saw the film’s trailer, I couldn’t help but compare it to The Wild One. Both movies take place in a similar time period, surround biker gangs and include romance between a gang member and outsider. Hell, not only was The Wild One Johnny’s inspiration for forming The Vandals, but even the leather jackets worn by both leads were made by Schott NYC (you can find both on their website). However, that’s where the similarities end, though as The Bikeriders is far more nuanced and gritty when it comes to its characters and violence. Compared to Marlon Brando’s more laid back Johnny Strabbler, Benny is a true wild one. He’s unafraid to start a fight and more than ready to finish one. At the same time, he is gentle with and protective of Kathy. When they first meet, he offers to take her back to her place to avoid her getting further harassed by the other Vandals. However, he is not without his faults. Contrary to his portrayal of a tough, independent young biker, Benny struggles to think for himself and decide what he truly wants. When Johnny wants him to take over the gang, Benny is initially adamantly against the idea. However, he still sticks with the gang and even gets closer to Johnny. Even after his wife is nearly assaulted by the gang, he still struggles to leave the gang for her sake.  

Bikers are frequently portrayed as a bunch of young, disgruntled rebellious men. Hell, the most iconic scene from The Wild One is Marlon Brando’s response when someone asks him what he’s rebelling against, to which he replies with “well, what do you got?” However in The Bikeriders, we get to see that the majority of The Vandals are not these disgruntled youth but rather older men who have families and jobs going through an existential crisis. Tom Hardy’s Johnny is a truck driver with a wife and two daughters who spends the majority (if not all) of his time hanging out with his biker buddies rather than at home with his family. Then we have Michael Shannon’s Zipco who is disillusioned with post-Vietnam America and belittles college-educated men, believing that they aren’t real men because they couldn’t work with their hands. And for those who do try to stand out from the status quo aren’t unique, rather they are bizarre to say the least, like Cockroach who got his moniker because he…eats bugs. The way I see it, The Bikeriders treats bikers similar to how Alan Moore’s Watchmen treats masked heroes: middle aged men going through a midlife crisis. In fact, the “youthful rebels” we do meet are painted as ruthless criminals such as The Kid, who turns The Vandals into an actual criminal organization.  


Benny and Kathy in The Bikeriders

To pull off such a gritty and emotional story, the acting has to be top notch. And the cast is nothing short of excellent. My favorite performances easily go to Jodie Comer and Austin Butler. As the rugged and mysterious Benny, Butler perfectly captures the 1960s bad boy spirit while adding a layer of subtlety to Benny’s character. We see him convey his internal struggles as he faces the tough decision of giving up something he loves to be with someone he loves with just a single glance. Even quieter scenes feel almost as loud as a concert stadium whenever Butler is on screen. But by far my favorite performance is Jodie Comer as Kathy. She perfectly captures the 1960s Midwest accent despite being British. Not many British actors can perfectly capture even an American accent, much less a Midwestern one. And this isn’t the first time she’s demonstrated her talent with accents. In Free Guy, she effortlessly played both an American and British accent simultaneously in a single film!  

I’m rather conflicted regarding the characterization of Benny. On one hand, you could argue that he doesn’t really break the mold of stereotypical male protagonists. He’s tough, talks with his fists and is unemotional. However, it makes sense in that time. Despite the hippie movement gaining ground, most men were still taught to be strong and silent. Not to mention that Benny himself has lived a rough life as a member of The Vandals. And when we do see him cry at the end, the tears are only shown for a second before it cuts away. Despite witnessing this intimate scene, we as the audience are not shown his actual tears. Instead, we only hear his soft cries. I do wished at least we saw some visible tears from him.


Tom Hardy in The Bikeriders

Taking a gritty, unique and thought-provoking approach to biker culture in the Midwest, The Bikeriders is a film that not only will challenge you emotionally but also affect the way you look at bikers and biker gangs. Bolstered by powerful performances by Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy, The Bikeriders pays homage to classic biker movies of the 1950s updated with modern day filmmaking techniques. If you are looking for a somber film full of rich and layered characters, this film is the one for you. Just be sure you’re not too squeamish when it comes to violence. And please, don’t get into any legal trouble.

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