Keith’s Movie Korner: Acting triumphs keep ‘The Bikeriders’ pedaling forward

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

Having three Oscar nominees headline the film makes it easy to see why the acting is so good, but it’s the lead actress who actually steals the show. “The Bikeriders” is inspired by the 1967 photography book of the same name by Danny Lyon and is loosely based on the real Chicago biker gang that still exists today. In terms of style, think of “Goodfellas” meets “Sons of Anarchy,” but with much less of a stimulating storyline. It is good but falls short of its potential.

Set in the mid-1960s to early ‘70s, a time of significant change and upheaval in America, a biker gang called the Vandals is formed in the Chicago area by Johnny (Tom Hardy), whose charisma and machismo attracts local miscreants to join. A young lady by the name of Kathy (Jodie Comer) finds herself in a bar frequented by the gang, where she becomes inexorably drawn to Benny (Austin Butler), Johnny’s favorite member. A whirlwind romance ensues, and the motorcycle club continues its fast expansion.

Different ideals begin to emerge among newer members of the Vandals, leading to violence and dissention. As the gang expands to other Midwest cities, Johnny is forced to evolve, embracing the more violent nature to the point even the police are afraid to challenge. As notoriety increases, so does the danger, forcing the ever-loyal Benny into a situation where he must choose between Johnny and the love of his life Kathy.

Critically acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols of “Mud” and “Loving” returns with another American tale he’s been wanting to make for the past five years. “The Bikeriders” is a passion project for Nichols, who up and left “A Quiet Place: Day One,” which coincidentally releases next week, to make this film. His commitment to the project shows, with an accurately detailed depiction of Midwest America during the ‘60s and ‘70s. While the imagery, background, scenery, cultural climate, and attitude of the time couldn’t have been captured any better, the storyline and character development of the secondary characters leave a little to be desired. Nichols’ effort, though incomparable, misses that emotional connection with the audience to truly invest their attention.

However, Nichols interestingly presents the story from a documentary-like perspective, telling a majority of it through interviews with the female lead with flashbacks as she recounts key memories of the biker gang’s evolution. This helps enhance the feeling of credibility and enables viewers to relate more with that character’s point of view. The director steered the focus away from the violence whenever possible, instead homing in on the magnetism of the Benny character and the love and loyalty surrounding him with his wife and best friend. This creates an intriguing love triangle between Benny, his wife, and Johnny/the Vandals, both of whom try pull him away from the other. Although, when conflict does arise, it feels rushed and somewhat disconnected from the film’s core.

From top to bottom, this is a stellar cast, but it is Jodie Comer (“The Last Duel”) who outshines her Oscar nominated co-stars. The British actress employs an appealing Chicago accent with a matter-of-fact style of speech and tone that perfectly pairs with her character. She convincingly illustrates her character being enchanted and completely enamored with Benny, leading her to make life decisions she wouldn’t normally make. This is a memorable performance that will undoubtedly yield more starring roles for Comer in the future.

While Comer excelled, the three Oscar nominees of Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, and Michael Shannon are no slouches either. Butler (“Elvis” and “Masters of Air”) has carved out quite the niche for himself as a soft spoken yet dangerous character with this undeniable magnetism that believably pulls other characters into his world’s orbit. Tom Hardy is equally suited for his role as the charismatic yet volatile leader of the biker gang, having played a similar role in 2012’s “Lawless.” His commanding screen presence and unpredictability makes him worth watching. This is Michael Shannon’s fifth appearance in a Jeff Nichols production, with his biggest role occurring in “Midnight Special.” Shannon has always proven to be a talented actor, but his character was poorly developed for this film, resulting in a wasted opportunity.

You might not expect a film that was completed in 2022 and sat on a shelf ever since due to distribution issues to be all that good, but “The Bikeriders” is interesting and entertaining enough to warrant a trip to the theater. It may not win any awards but the acting is truly compelling, especially Jodie Comer. It is highly doubtful that it will knock “Inside Out 2” from the top of the box office hill this weekend, but second place is up for grabs.

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June 2024