‘Bikeriders’ are wild ones

The Bikeriders offers a hybrid art film mixed with biker style exploitation tropes and told with emphasis on characters by writer/director Jeff Nichols.

An engaging story with a powerful finish has an emotional punch that will satisfy any audience that gets on board for the ride. A group of surly dudes live for their motorcycle gang. While they may seem like a bunch of guys who like to drink beer and smoke cigarettes they get serious if someone crosses their path with the intent to harm, or especially if someone wants to leave the gang.

Told as a memory by Kathy (amazing performance by Jodie Comer) the wife of Benny (a brooding Austin Butler) as she’s being interviewed by a photographer (Challengers Mike Faist) who had chronicled the group throughout the ’60s. The movie itself is based on a book of photography about a 1960s motorcycle gang.

There are references that abound from previously told tales including Hunter Thompson’s book The Hell’s Angels, which was a bit of a cause célèbre upon its publication in 1967. There’s also Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels, which starred Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and Bruce Dern and contains the oft quoted line: “Well, we wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded, and we wanna have a good time.”

The archetypal gang of punks on bikes movie is actually seen in the film. A television is playing The Wild Ones starring Marlon Brando and features the equally quoted lines: “What are you protesting? I dunno, whatcha got?”

If there’s a modern actor who inhabits the Brando walk and talk it’s Tom Hardy who turns in another one of his patented brilliant performances as Johnny. He’s a child in a man’s body but instead of a Peter Pan complex Hardy displays an incredible range of seething anger hidden beneath a moody quiet demeanor.

Some cool needle drops include Cream’s “I Feel Free.” The film was originally scheduled for release last year through Disney owned Fox but was shelved and then wisely picked up by Universal’s Focus Features.

Nichols shows an instinctive feel for the subtle pathos the story requires. The Bikeriders vrooms into theaters this weekend.

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