The Bikeriders: Tracking Change

As an American filmmaker, Jeff Nichols has always been interested in America and its more unexplored parts. In another collaboration with Michael Shannon (but not starring him), Nichols loosely adapts the plotless collection of photos and interviews of Danny Lyon, who is featured in the film and played by Mike Faist. The film is some of the same as we see Danny interview Kathy Cross (Jodie Comer), who is married to Benny Cross (Austin Butler). Kathy tracks the change of the organization from her memory of its founding by Johnny (Tom Hardy) and shares how what started as a racing club turned into a notorious group of outlaws.

Founded by Johnny, the club begins as a group who love motorcycles. But motorcycles mean many things to many people and, soon, some of the members begin to see it as a way to rebel against their societal expectations, like the simple rules of family and safety in community. In many ways, Benny represents the split between the ideals of the Chicago Vandals biker gang. He loves to ride, so much so that he’s willing to give his life out of his loyalty and determination to defend the club.

Johnny loves this Benny’s commitment and recognizes that not every member is like him. Some are losers, thugs, and weirdos and, when Kathy first meets the members of the biker club, most stand out as disgusting creatures trying to hit on her. But Benny is different. He’s charming and attractive in a way that no other man can compete with. Johnny and Kathy’s love for Benny is mutual but they have polarizing hopes for his future. As the two struggle over Benny’s path, the club becomes more unstable, leading to more violent incidents and organized crime begins to become part of the club’s DNA.

The Bikeriders‘ plot revolves around the change that the club undergoes and Johnny and Kathy’s inability to change Benny contradict each other in fascinating ways. The filmmaking is rock solid as Nichols uses the camera in mostly subtle ways to bring us into this world, never seeking to push the film into any sense of the supernatural. Instead, he tries to make the realistic spectacular. He succeeds in many parts but the screenplay’s lack of focus seems to be a cause of Nichols’ fascination with this world. For example, his need to explore other characters and focus on Danny Lyon hinders the film to some extent as subplots extend on for too long (and some even seem to weaken dramatic points of the story).

The music has a very angelic and beautiful sound as, like Nichols, the score seems to glorify the feeling of being an outlaw riding away into the sunset. Nichols’ need to show the important images and ideas expressed in the interviews don’t translate to an effective cohesive thread leaving many without due impact on the story and its themes as a whole. In many ways, it is beautiful to see a passion project get made in this way. The Bikeriders shows Nichols’ fascination with contemporary history and plays out like a kid who loved the feeling that these images gave to him. However, that feeling drives the movie only so far, leaving some parts empty. Admittedly, the ending does hammer home the main thread of the story well. It’s just hard to always be completely invested in all the events that come before it.

The Bikeriders is available in theatres on Friday, June 21st, 2024.

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