The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

“The Bikeriders” REVIEW: A movie about nothing, but one hell of a ride

“The Bikeriders” REVIEW: A movie about nothing, but one hell of a ride - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

"The Bikeriders," directed by Jeff Nichols, a Focus Features release. Photo courtesy of Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

People say the first half of the 1960s was entirely different than the second. The same can be said about the ever-evolving life of The Vandals, which started innocently enough as a small boy’s club and quickly devolved into a life of betrayal and murder.

In a Q&A after a screening at the Austin Film Festival in Nov. 2023, director Jeff Nichols described the film as “a movie with no plot.”

So…what does a movie with no plot have to offer us?

Well, a lot, it turns out.

The Bikeriders” takes place over 10 years and displays an ode to the landscape of Chicago in the ‘60s.

The film was inspired by Danny Lyon’s photography book of the same name. Lyon composed his book with photographs and unconventional interview techniques that involved himself interacting and participating with his subjects, a movement later known as new journalism.

Nichols said in writing the script for this story, there are times when the dialogue is 100% accurate to Lyon’s interviews. He had been lucky enough to retrieve the original tapes from Lyon and even played parts of them on stage for the audience.

In “The Bikeriders,” Nichols weaves the truth with fiction to truly bring the underbelly of the ’60s streets of Chicago and the black-and-white riders back to life.

Featuring actors like Austin Butler (“Elvis”) and Tom Hardy, the star-studded cast takes those people from photographs and interviews 80 years ago and turns them into “ride” or die friends.

Hardy’s character, Johnny, idolizes Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones,” so he decides to start a biker club of his own, and even talk like Brando while he’s at it.

Jodie Comer’s character, Kathy, has a crazy—nearly piercing—Midwestern accent, so comical we honestly thought the queen of accents was off her game. That was until Nichols played a recorded interview of the real Kathy.

Benny, Butler’s character, never showed his face in any of Lyon’s photographs. Every mention of him in the original book is through Kathy, his wife.

Still, the shot for Benny’s introduction in the film is filled with intrigue.

An air of mystery and expectancy enters the theater as the camera focuses on him and makes you wonder…“Who is that?”

Next to such big personalities, the tension for what Benny has to offer the audience is high.

However, the direction Nichols chooses for this character leaves the film at a seven out of ten when everything else about it should say it’s at least an eight.

The cinematography is electric—the streets are grimy and alive. The bikes roar in your ears as they cross the screen. Everything is a perfectly painted picture.

But that’s not what most people had to say about the movie.

In promotions and interviews, and even from Nichols himself, one thing is consistently brought up—a love triangle.

Unlike most films, Johnny and Benny aren’t fighting for Kathy—the only fleshed-out female character in the film—but rather the fight for affection is over Benny, the man described by Nichols as “a glass bottle with no bottom.”

Characters keep pouring their aspirations, hopes and dreams into him, and they just flow right out. In a way, it’s a stunning and intriguing aspect of the entire film.

What could’ve easily been a film about a succession of power turns into a different kind of thirst between Johnny, the leader, and Benny, the livewire.

Hardy does a phenomenal acting job in this regard.

There’s a scene in the movie between Johnny and Benny with such heaviness and longing that you almost want to look away at such stark intimacy.

Butler has been previously recognized for his acting skills by the Golden Globes, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination for “Best Actor” for his Elvis performance during the 2023 awards cycle.

This “empty” character that Nichols has Butler play is fun to watch because of his raw charisma. With that said, some aspects of the character leave the viewer feeling unsatisfied.

Benny is the sun that all the other characters revolve around. Life stands still for Kathy when he leaves. Johnny becomes aimless and lacks direction or aspiration.

We see the lasting impact on these characters that Benny’s absence creates.

As a viewer, you don’t spend long wondering where Benny went. However, the way the film seemingly wraps itself in a little bow the moment he comes back makes it feel like we definitely should have.

The investment into the other storylines felt heavier and more fleshed-out. Maybe the raw charisma was supposed to be enough to push them through.

If you enjoy an action-packed, play-by-play plot, steer clear.

If you want to place yourself amid a loveable ensemble cast and smell the grease on their fingers, this is the film for you.

If the thought of Hardy looking at Butler like he wants to swallow him whole excites you, this is the film for you.

About the Author

Madison Gutierrez
Madison Gutierrez is a communications junior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, minoring in creative arts and performance studies. She graduated with her associate degree from San Antonio College in the spring of 2023. When she’s not in class, she searches for new artists or podcasts to listen to. If the weather is good, she takes her painting outside. Upon graduating, she hopes to go into the field of public relations and continue honing her craft in art.

Join the Conversation

© 2024 Jaguar Student Media | Texas A&M University-San Antonio. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved.
San Antonio Website Design & Development - Backyard Studios
Join Our Newsletter

Get the Mesquite News delivered straight to you.