A Road Traversed Through the Eyes of a Vandal
Given the recent showing of the film at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, The Bikeriders is poised to make a mark for a certain type of genre of movie this year. This genre of movie is, of course, the biker film. Many films have been made surrounding biker culture, but none seem to have really hit the nail on the head as much as The Bikeriders has. This film brings a breath of fresh air to the arena of biker culture and the importance of the stories they have to tell. The story contains themes about family, comradery, leadership, and much more. It brings everything a fellow biker might need to enjoy a night out at the movies with the rest of the gang.
The plot of the film surrounds several characters but focuses mostly on a lone wolf-type biker named Benny (Austin Butler) and his wife, Kathy (Jodie Comer). The film is a true story told through interviews with Kathy surrounding her experiences with the biker gang that Benny was involved in called the Vandals. The interviews are acted out, but they come from the 1967 book written by Danny Lyon, promptly named The Bikeriders. As the film progresses, it is seen how Kathy is roped into the culture of the Vandals and is taken under their wing in a sense, although still maintaining her sense of sanity in comparison to the other women who were a part of the gang. She progressively gets more and more worried about what is going on within the leadership structure of the Vandals, as well as just being worried about Benny, as he always finds a way to get into trouble.
Speaking of leadership structure, the leader of the Vandals, Johnny (Tom Hardy), is often seen having to hear out other members of the gang and outsiders based on leadership discrepancies. This eventually leads to changes being made within the group that causes breakout fights within the system that they have created and also causes them to welcome outsiders who may not belong. This being said, the way that the plot was presented falls flat in some areas as it feels like it drags on. There are a lot of memorable moments within the film, along with moments that didn’t feel completely necessary. It feels like the film could have taken a few more leaps in how it presented the stories from the interviews because they are all genuinely interesting stories. The presentation of the source material is what holds this film back for the most part. That being said, the film is a wonderful exploration of biker culture, and it creates a sense of belonging for the audience as they share all these intimate stories from Kathy. All in all, the plot served its purpose for the most part and was able to create something good out of a real story/compilation of stories.
The acting of the film is compelling and very down-to-earth. It makes the audience feel like they are a part of the stories that Kathy is telling. The characters feel real and are mostly represented in the way that they are supposed to be. Austin Butler does a magnificent job as Benny and, through his performance, is able to express the importance of the relationship between him and Johnny. Unfortunately, it felt like there was way more of a connection with Johnny than with Kathy, his own wife. Jodie Comer is a great storyteller throughout the interviews, and her individual scenes really knock it out of the park. Tom Hardy was a great choice for the role of Johnny. His stoicism, violence, and problem-solving skills come through quite nicely to put him in the leadership spot of the Vandals. Other big actors like Norman Reedus and Michael Shannon play their roles nicely as well, delivering the unique personalities of the people that surrounded the Vandals. One standout performance, though, was that of “The Kid,” played by Toby Wallace. He acts out the progression of a teenage boy wanting to belong somewhere to near perfection. He truly makes his character feel compelling and really realistically acted, even given his violent actions and out-of-pocket choices made throughout the film. Overall, the acting in this film is superb for the most part, with the only downside being on the writing side rather than the acting side.
The atmosphere of the film is nothing super crazy when it comes to the visuals. It’s just the US “back in the day,” which audiences have already seen countless times in other films. The uniqueness of the atmosphere comes down to what the film is about: bikers. It accurately portrays the way in which they maneuver the world around them. Part of the atmosphere is achieved through the heartfelt conversations between the characters and the sort of warmth that they portray. They genuinely feel like they belong in the places they are and are part of the real world. Throughout the film, the locations move pretty vastly in the sense that they move throughout the entirety of the US. This isn’t through the main characters actually moving to those places, but rather the other bikers being invited to where they are. Overall, the film has a great “family cookout” vibe to it and makes the audience feel invited and a part of the family.
All Roads Lead to an End
The Bikeriders is a film that should excite people from the biker culture and serve as an homage to them. For other moviegoers, the film is still a good watch and is generally a fun world to dive into. The adaptation of the book could have been expanded in greater detail for some portions of the film, but at the same time, there’s not much one can do when presented with a true story. One just has to hope it’s interesting enough for an audience to enjoy. The Bikeriders is definitely an interesting amalgamation of stories about the rise and fall of the Vandals.
The Bikeriders arrives in theaters starting December 1st.
The Bikeriders (2023) Official 20th Century Studios Trailer