The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

‘The Bikeriders’ feels like a classic in the making

Austin Butler’s newest film is a riveting drama that tells the story of the rise and fall of a Chicago motorcycle club throughout the 1970s.
Emma Calabro
A crowd gathers at FilmScene during an ICDOCS afterparty at the Chauncey in Iowa City on Friday, April 26, 2024.

Movies like “The Bikeriders” feel rare these days. Mike Nichols’ recent release is a beautifully captured, classic tale of good men who spiral too far into a life of crime. “Goodfellas” on motorcycles is the best way I could pitch it — the opening scene even directly riffs on the opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic.

A stacked cast of movie stars, including Austin Butler and Tom Hardy, bolsters the film from a rote period drama to an exhilarating portrait of an era in American history. Butler plays Benny, a social outcast who only knows one thing: bikes.

Although Butler’s character is central, he is a surprisingly quiet protagonist and not often an active member in the plots of his biker gang: The Chicago Vandals. Instead, we hear a lot from Hardy’s Johnny, the leader and founder of the club.

Tom Hardy is a fascinating actor to watch since it feels like he pulls out a radically different accent in every film he’s in. “The Bikeriders” continues this tradition as he and many of the cast put on a fantastically over-the-top Chicago accent. It’s the type of acting choice that people will either find laughable and distracting or completely click with. I fell into the latter category.

On the topic of incredible accents. Jodie Comer, who plays Benny’s wife, Kathy, narrates the film in an equally over-the-top midwestern accent. The choice to have Comer be the narrator, and also the emotional center of the film, is an inspired decision that allows the movie to stand out among similar stories. “Goodfellas” for example is mostly told through the perspective of the male lead, Henry Hill, but telling the story of “The Bikeriders” through Kathy’s voice gives the story more depth.

With these three incredible actors putting in some truly noteworthy performances, the movie essentially has three main characters. Juggling so many people sounds like it could be overbearing, but “The Bikeriders” manages to dedicate enough time to each of them that I was completely satisfied by the time the credits rolled.

The film is adapted from a photobook authored by Danny Lyon, a real-life photographer who rode with the Vandals throughout his college years. The film not only includes Lyon’s process, using his interviews with club members as a framing device for the narrative, but it also directly recreates the photos from the book.

The photography of the film is gorgeous, with plenty of wide shots of Benny tearing through Illinois fields on his bike, dramatically lit knife fights, and a lot of smoky pans across dive bars full of bikers. If the performances weren’t enough to keep you entertained, the film is also a treat to look at.

However, the real reason “The Bikeriders” doesn’t feel like a movie you typically see in theaters anymore is that it’s quite a patient movie. It’s not exactly an indie movie because it has a large cast of stars, but it’s not an action blockbuster either. Both the trailers for the film and the opening scene itself gear the audience up for a high-octane warring gang movie, but the film is a lot quieter than I expected.

Whenever brawls do begin, the film portrays the violence as pointless rather than badass. By the end of the movie, the freedom that both the audience and characters in the film experience feels tragic more than riveting. For that emotional journey, I cannot recommend “The Bikeriders” enough. Whether you like cool guys doing cool things on motorcycles or compelling character drama, there’s something for you to enjoy in this film.

“The Bikeriders” is now playing at FilmScene.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.