“The Bikeriders” review: Wild, free, and disillusioned | WORLD
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The Bikeriders

MOVIE | Story about 1960s motorcycle gang members searching for belonging offers tension but little resolution

Kyle Kaplan / Focus Features

<em>The Bikeriders</em>
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Rated R • Theaters

Danny Lyon’s book of photos The Bikeriders captured images of a Chicago motorcycle gang in the 1960s. The pictures might portray a simpler time, but there’s a timelessness to the gang’s youthful angst that comes to life in director Jeff Nichols’ new movie of the same name. Based on Lyon’s book, the movie tells a fictionalized account of a working man’s rebellion.

Jodie Comer plays the story’s straitlaced narrator, Kathy, who falls for a rebel named Benny (Austin Butler) and the wild life of his gang, the Vandals. Kathy’s entrance into the gang and her attempts to get Benny out of it frame the story.

The Vandals’ leader Johnny (Tom Hardy) also admires Benny and wants to hold on to him.

Like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, gang members find belonging through apathy, and their disillusionment stems from the breakdown of their communities and families while their contemporaries serve in Vietnam. The gang gives them a new community and a renewed purpose.

Benny joins the gang to avoid responsibility, but soon he’s faced with a new burden: The gang needs a new leader. Despite the romance of the open road and an open throttle, the demands of real life are never far behind.

The movie has a nostalgic tone, but it is a rough film containing pervasive bad language and flashes of brutal violence. It recreates a distinct Midwestern atmosphere, but the story could have followed the main character’s emotional changes more closely.

What becomes of the gang members’ romantic shedding of responsibility? Do they stay loyal to each other?

We get hints, but despite the rich context and culture, the film’s story doesn’t move far enough beyond the environment it so ably fashions.

Max Belz

Max is a major gifts officer at WORLD and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute. He lives in Savannah, Ga., with his wife and four children.


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