Film Review: The Bikeriders revels in both the greasy masculinity and surprising vulnerability of its titular collective

Inspired by Danny Lyon‘s 1967 photo book The Bikeriders, Jeff Nichols‘ name-same drama revels in both the greasy masculinity and surprising vulnerability of its titular collective – a motorcycle club known as The Vandals – tracking their rise and evolution between 1965 and 1973.

Lyon’s idea for the book was to “record and glorify the life of an American bike rider.”  For the film, Lyon (played by Mike Faist) is presented as something of an access point for the audience, taking photos of and interviewing those connected to The Vandals, which was founded by Johnny Davis (Tom Hardy, losing himself in the character with his vocal work), himself inspired by watching Marlon Brando in the 1953 film The Wild One.

Despite Johnny and his trusted right-hander Benny Cross (Austin Butler, once again proving his movie star status with a lived-in turn) being the pulse of The Vandals, and the film naming itself indirectly after them, it’s Kathy (Jodie Comer), Benny’s eventual wife, that much of The Bikeriders‘ 116 minutes devotes itself to.

Their attraction is immediate – I think audiences will collectively fall for Butler’s Benny the moment he locks eyes with the lens – and their love story is one that endures its share of melodrama as Benny’s death wish-like mentality threatens to continually tear them apart, even though her love for him is ultimately too strong to ever tether away.  She wants to get him out of the bike riding scene for his own good, and as much as he wants to devote a life to her, motorcycles and, ultimately, Johnny prove too intoxicating for him to leave.

Despite the volatility of many of The Vandals members, Nichols’ script paints them with certain strokes of humanity.  They’re a brutal bunch (to say the least), but there’s a commitment to one another that’s surprisingly wholesome, even if it’s wrapped in the soaking blood of their fists and faces as they violently manoeuvre through law enforcement, rival gangs, and newer members who hold vastly opposing views to Johnny as to how The Vandals should operate moving forward.

And as much as Comer is the heart of the film, and Hardy and Butler prove their worth as continuing character actors with their respective roles, it’s many of the supporting cast that emerge as the more intriguing figures; Michael Shannon, Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook, Damon Herriman, Toby Wallace and Karl Glusman as various members of The Vandals form realised performances that often leave us wanting to know more of their own individual stories.

Ultimately a snapshot in the lives of The Vandals, The Bikeriders may not necessarily win those over who are seeking something of a traditional narrative.  It evidently has affection for Lyon’s work, which in turn brings about some beautiful imagery, but a deeper exploration of who these riders were could’ve elevated Nichols’ film beyond the superbly acted and well intentioned drama it is to something that extends beyond mere revisionist history.

That being said, Comer, Hardy and Butler are dynamite to watch, and as much as the film bathes in its virility, it’s the more tender moments of The Vandals and their friendship that help paint a more honest portrait of American masculinity beyond the archetypal toxicity such a riding collective could project.


The Bikeriders is screening in Australian theatres from July 4th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.