ArtsCinema & TV

The Bikeriders: The DANAMIC Film Review

The unlikely topic of motorbike gangs takes centre stage in director Jeff Nichols’ newest movie, The Bikeriders. Set against the backdrop of Chicago in the 1960s, the story follows the development of a fictional motorbike gang, Vandals MC. The movie, which stars big names like Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, and Mike Faist, was inspired by a book of the same name written by Danny Lyon (played by Faist). 

The photobook was first published in 1968 by Danny, a young motorbike enthusiast. Danny’s book documented the lives of the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club members and is now seeing a makeover on the big screen. The movie is narrated by Jodie Comer’s character, Kathy, as she details her whirlwind romance with Benny, a member of the club (played by Austin Butler), and the rise and subsequent fall of the gang. 

If I had to describe the movie in a few words, it was a realistic yet sad story of American motorbike gangs in the late 60s and early 70s. The Bikeriders is at the intersection of American history, society, and culture. If these check all your boxes, I recommend watching this film. Over the course of two hours, I followed as Jeff Nichols told the story of community and brotherhood. Of course, seeing Austin Butler and Tom Hardy in brooding black leather jackets was definitely an incentive too. 

Allow me to guide you through the lawless world of The Bikeriders as I explore the visuals and themes of the movie. Warning! There will be spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk. And now, without further ado, let’s unpack The Bikeriders together.

Storytelling and Cinematography

The Bikeriders Review: Michael Shannon
Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon, who plays Zipco, on the set of The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders is Kathy recounting her husband’s time in the gang as Danny interviews her. While it follows the lives of the members of Vandals MC, the main focus is on Johnny (Tom Hardy) and Benny. Johnny is the benevolent yet stoic leader of the gang who founded the group out of his passion for motorbike racing. Benny, Kathy’s husband, is the swoon-worthy and fiercely loyal member who needs to choose between his love for the gang and his wife. 

Of course, the film explores the lives of a few of the other members, but they ultimately act as footnotes to the overall story of the gang. While I have to admit that there was barely any development of the individual characters, each character’s story contributes to the unique tapestry of the club – which is the movie’s primary focus.  

Filmed as a mockumentary, there aren’t any flashy special effects or sophisticated editing, but the film was still visually compelling because it suited its story. At the heart of the narrative, The Bikeriders is a story about the typical rugged American searching for a community during such uncertain times. The story, just like the people it portrays, is simple. And it’s the simplicity of the people that complements the equally simple cinematography. 

One thing I found admirable about the film was its authenticity to the real people they were portraying. From the narrative to the cinematography and the fashion (which we will explore next), everything was simple – which felt like a nod to the original cast of the 1968 photobook. While others may have found the cinematography uninspiring, I found it commendable. 


The Bikeriders Review: Tom Hardy and Austin Butler
Here we have Tom Hardy and Austin Butler looking dashing in their understated outfits

The first thing that really caught my attention was the fashion in the movie. For 90% of the film, the cast was clad in typical leather jackets adorned with patches—the “uniform” of the Vandals MC motorbike gang. But the scenes depicting the characters’ home lives allowed the stylistic choices to shine through.

While there wasn’t anything glamorous about how they were dressed, the simple jeans and shirt combinations were reminiscent of the fashion of the blue-collar workers the actors portrayed. We tend to forget that fashion in movies is glamorised, but I found The Bikeriders to be a refreshing break from the norm. At the end of the day, they were telling the story of hardworking labourers by day and gang members by night – the rotation between oil-stained white wifebeaters and leather jackets, while simple, nailed the authenticity of the reality during that time.

The Bikeriders Review: Jodie Comer and Austin Butler 2
I can’t imagine the amount of hairspray it took to keep Kathy’s beehive up!

I was especially drawn to the updos of the film’s female characters—the members’ wives and girls either sported beehives or flipped bobs. While I loved the latter, I was completely taken by Kathy’s beehive. It was tall on the top and long at the back—think Amy Winehouse or Brigitte Bardot. During the second part of the movie, set in the early 1970s, Kathy swapped the beehive for a simple middle part—which was faithful to the trend of that time. 

Character Development 

The Bikeriders Review: Jodie Comer and Austin Butler
Jeff Nichols, alongside Austin Butler and Jodie Comer, on location for The Bikeriders

Now that we have the visual storytelling out of the way, let’s dive deeper into the actual stories and character development of each big role. I have to admit, a few of the roles had left me high and dry. While some characters wrestled with truly agonising storylines, others plateaued and fell flat. Because of this, there were moments in the film that were a lot more forgettable than some, sometimes making the movie a bit boring. 

Tom Hardy as Johnny 

The Bikeriders Review: Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy toes the line between benevolence and stoicism perfectly!

We start with one of the main characters: Johnny. We learn that Johnny, a family man and a hard-working electrician, founded the club for like-minded bike racers like himself. The Bikeriders mask the concept of “found family” behind the macho disguise of a motorbike gang, and Johnny plays the role of a strict yet kindhearted father to the members of Vandals MC. 

I, for one, loved Johnny’s story throughout the film. Initially, he’s this cold man who runs a motorbike club. In his defence, being the leader of a gang requires a very manly exterior; how else could one demand respect from his peers? 

Throughout the film, we witness the slow yet noticeable change in Johnny’s demeanour. After a series of tragic events, Johnny starts to soften up and showcases this sense of vulnerability that many men of that time weren’t allowed to have. Johnny “lowering” his guard and succumbing to the monster his club has become was a kind of sensibility I wasn’t expecting to see. 

I think the writers did an excellent job with Johnny’s character. His role as leader and father figure in Vandals MC automatically made it difficult for a man like him to drop his gallant persona. There were more layers to this man than an onion, and I was living for it every time he was on screen.

Tom Hardy played the role of Johnny to a T! He was obviously a great casting decision, given his natural characteristics. Tall, fit, and looking like he could kill you with a punch –  that kind of thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know Tom Hardy had what it took to portray such silent emotions, but I would gladly eat my own words.

Although his character still has that edge about him at the end of the film – let’s not forget that he plays a man from the 60s – there were moments of subtle openness to his character that I think Tom nailed. He managed to convey feelings with his eyes and mannerisms that his mouth would not let him utter. 

Austin Butler as Benny

The Bikeriders Review: Austin Butler
Austin Butler’s good looks made all of us fawn, but not much can be said about his character, Benny

Where the writers excelled with Johnny, they fell short with Benny. From the moment Benny appeared on screen, he was this enigma you couldn’t figure out. But that was a part of his charm – he’s the handsome guy you need to pick at before you get to see the real him. 

However, despite plenty of opportunities for the writers to unravel Benny’s character as the film went on, we were given nothing. Benny was supposed to play the role of the faithful son – loyal to a fault, with so much potential to lead the club to glory. 

There was so much that could be done with Benny’s character that we just didn’t get to see – which felt like an absolute waste of a role if you ask me. From start to finish, Benny stays the same man he was at the very beginning of the film. It’s a real shame that we only start to see a little development of Benny’s story in the last 10 minutes of the film – but I think that further emphasises how much could’ve been done in the first 106 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Every time Austin Butler was on the screen, I sat up in my chair because, come on, it’s Austin Butler! His devilishly handsome good looks really made him a treat in this movie. I can’t fault the one-dimensionality of his character on him, but I mourn the untapped potential of his role.

Jodie Comer as Kathy

The Bikeriders Review: Jodie Comer
Jodie Comer was the most charismatic Kathy

Kathy, our faithful guide throughout the 116 minutes, was exceptional. She narrated some of the most gut-wrenching, humorous, and shocking scenes with grace. Her character embodies the essence of a girlboss—a woman who fought for her place at the table with the gentleness of a sister and the no-nonsense attitude of a wife.

I saw her as more of a sisterly or daughterly figure to the members of Vandals MC. Throughout the movie, she grapples with the danger of her husband being in a motorcycle gang and slowly watches as the man she loves foolishly dedicates his life to the club.

She begs him to put himself first but has to watch as he does the exact opposite. She takes on authority figures and stands her ground when she needs to. I honestly found her character so admirable. Just think about it: in a world where men often dismiss women, she so brazenly took the bull by its horns – if that isn’t worthy of praise, I don’t know what it is.

Despite her cold facade, Kathy had moments of vulnerability that shook me to the core—she was anything but one-dimensional. I loved her softer moments just as much as her badass ones. She gave us a whole spectrum of emotions that had me rooting for her and her happy ending.

Jodie Comer was brilliant as Kathy. Her portrayal captured subtle mannerisms that suited the role. Her storytelling effortlessly held the audience’s attention and guided us through the narrative. Many of the movie’s lighter moments were thanks to Kathy’s wit and actions, making Jodie Comer’s performance commendable as the endearing Kathy.

Vandals MC 

The Bikeriders Review: Vandals MC
Vandals MC was the definition of brotherhood

Given that the entire movie is based on the club itself, I think it’s only fair for us to discuss the development of Vandals MC as a character as well. We know how the club came to be; it was a social group for bike lovers. If I switched out the word “gang” for a much less incriminating synonym, the whole concept would be much more wholesome.

Vandals MC was a place for men to enjoy the company of other men like themselves. In the ’60s and ’70s, amidst a backdrop of prevalent toxic masculinity, Vandals MC stood as a rather (dare I say) cute concept—a space where men could bond over shared interests and camaraderie. 

Of course, considering the negative reputation motorcycle gangs have today, we can anticipate how this will unfold. The club undergoes a significant ideological shift as new members radicalise Vandals MC. This transformation sets the stage for a crucial theme: the conflict between tradition and modernity.

As someone who fears both change and stagnation, I empathise deeply with the conflict portrayed in The Bikeriders. Even as I write this review, I struggle to pinpoint an ultimate villain in the story, a testament to the film’s nuanced writing. 

Final Thoughts

The Bikeriders Review: Limited Edition Hydra-Glide Revival motorcycle
The Bikeriders is a movie about bike riders, for bike riders

When all is said and done, the movie’s exploration of American history, society, and culture ticked all my boxes and piqued my interest. I found the movie’s themes to be rather profound, and the film was more allegorical than I had expected.

There were moments that made the film feel a bit draggy, but it had its fair share of funny and serious moments, which I can greatly appreciate. At the screening, I saw a ton of attendees clad in Harley Davidson jackets and groups of like-minded bike lovers, just like the ones in the movie.

It was heartwarming to see a movie about motorbike enthusiasts bring together a whole wave of people as they bonded over their shared love of motorcycles. I watched as they fawned over the Limited Edition Hydra-Glide Revival motorcycle in person and laughed as they saw hobbyists like themselves being represented on the big screen. That was when I had an epiphany: The Bikeriders is a story of bike riders, for bike riders.

Catch The Bikeriders in Cinemas!

Whether you’re drawn to gripping tales of brotherhood and betrayal, fascinated by American history, or simply appreciate authentic storytelling, The Bikeriders promises to captivate. With its compelling narrative, poignant themes, and stellar performances, this film offers a visceral glimpse into the tumultuous world of motorbike gangs in the 1960s and 70s.

If you’re interested in catching the film, check out screenings at The Projector, Golden Village or Shaw Lido

Visuals courtesy of UIP.

Jillian Metta Lau

Bookworm by day, concert maven by night, and an avid dreamer longing to trade pages for passports and explore the globe's symphony of cultures.

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