For A Few Glorious Minutes, I Loved This Throwback Crime Drama


  • Austin Butler shines with movie star energy in The Bikeriders, captivating us with his performance.
  • The film’s beautiful cinematography, inspired by photography, adds depth and visual appeal to the story.
  • As The Bikeriders progresses, it becomes burdened with story, losing some of its initial magic and energy.

I like The Bikeriders. I feel compelled to start this review with that statement because I’m unsure how clear that will be by the end of it. I tend to be more lenient with good movies that feel like they maxed out on their potential than ones that could have been, or perhaps in moments were, great. The former are what they are, and offer what they offer. The latter are so wrapped up in their potential that the process of disentangling them can resemble the five stages of grief. So, out of fairness, I’m starting with acceptance.

The Bikeriders Gets That Austin Butler Is The Real Deal

And so do the other characters

The Bikeriders was adapted by writer-director Jeff Nichols from a book of photography of the same name by Danny Lyon, a fact that is the source of many strengths and weaknesses. The movie’s story is fictional, though some of its characters are real, inspired by the interviews included in the book. Lyon himself is a character (Mike Faist), appearing throughout to gather material on this biker subculture in 1960s Chicago.

But the narrative’s interest is mostly split between three others in The Bikeriders cast. Kathy (Jodie Comer), practically our narrator, finds herself intertwined with the Vandals motorcycle club when she falls hard for Benny (Austin Butler), one of its members. From the way she tells it, and the way Comer and Butler perform it as she recollects, it’s easy to see why. Kathy was repelled by just about everyone else in the Vandals’ bar that night, but she could see right away that Benny was the genuine article. One impish smile during Lyon’s interview, and we understand perfectly who she is.

Johnny (Tom Hardy), founder and leader of the Vandals, is drawn to Benny for the same reason. A family man with a stable job, Johnny ended up creating the biker club after seeing Marlon Brando in The Wild One, and despite being the one everyone else looks to for guidance, he’s never fully comfortable in that role. Hardy portrays him with a certain degree of imposter syndrome – not false, but always worried he’ll appear so. This is, to an extent, true of almost all the original bikers. They’re all chasing an aspirational image, and having fun doing it.

But Benny is that person they aspire to be. He lives for the freedom of riding on an open highway, and chooses violence over dishonor without hesitation. He’s as fiercely loyal as someone can be while still seeming like he could pick up and leave the moment he feels too tied down. As the film progresses, Nichols makes him the dramatic lynchpin, with Kathy and Johnny trying to influence him at opposite ends. This, for me, was a miscalculation.

Gradually, everything becomes burdened with story. The more the triangle of Kathy, Benny, and Johnny is played up for drama, the less interesting it becomes.

Butler is pure magnetism in this film. His roles this year share a certain mythic quality, as if the one guaranteed response to his screen presence is to be awestruck, whether from admiration (Masters of the Air) or repulsion (Dune: Part 2). In the early scenes of The Bikeriders, which are alive and engrossing, he’s mostly asked just to be on camera, and his energy imbues the film with an ease of purpose.

The Bikeriders Can’t Sustain The Magic Of Its Early Scenes

The material deserved more trust from the filmmakers

For a while, everything feels in step with him. Nichols takes us into this world as a sort of observer, capturing this time and place and way of being like Lyon did. The bikers are frequently arranged in photographic tableaux that take advantage of Adam Stone’s beautiful cinematography. There’s an emphasis on the sensory experience of their lifestyle, both diegetically, through Lyon’s interviews, and in the deployment of things like sound design. Supporting performances pop repeatedly, Michael Shannon and Norman Reedus especially.

But, gradually, everything becomes burdened with story. The more the triangle of Kathy, Benny, and Johnny is played up for drama, the less interesting it becomes. It makes for an interesting paradox in the approach to adaptation. A photobook perhaps isn’t the most natural material for a feature film, and Nichols clearly attempted to use it as a springboard for something more movie-esque. But I was most engaged when The Bikeriders embraced the awkward fit. My investment came from wanting to understand these characters, not from a need to know what happened to them next.

In the early scenes of The Bikeriders, which are alive and engrossing, [Butler is] mostly asked just to be on camera, and his energy imbues the film with an ease of purpose.

After this movie’s premiere at Telluride last year, Goodfellas was floated as a clear touchstone, and there’s truth to that in my experience. Given the criminality at play, perhaps that vision is understandable. But many of the moments that work best feel more in the vein of Dazed and Confused. In the former film, everything is inflated to the level of the capital-C Cinematic (with the narrating protagonist arguably doing the inflating); in the latter, the characters and their lives are captured as if they already are.

These two impulses are at war in The Bikeriders, and plague it with inconsistency. I wish it had committed to making the small things feel big, instead of trying to make big things that ended up feeling small. But that’s too harsh a statement for something that, for a time, felt like I was watching one of my favorite movies of the year so far. Such is the difficulty of reviewing something I like, but am frustratingly unable to love.

The Bikeriders releases in theaters on June 21. The film is 116 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use, and brief sexuality.

The Bike Riders Movie Poster Showing Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, and Tom Hardy With a Motorcycle Gang

The Bikeriders tells the story of a 1960s Midwestern motorcycle club, the Vandals. Through the eyes of Kathy, played by Jodie Comer, the film explores the club’s evolution from a group of local outsiders to a dangerous gang.


  • Austin Butler’s movie star energy
  • Photographic inspiration makes for some truly beautiful cinematography

  • Becomes somewhat bogged down with story as the film progresses
  • Goes bigger than it needs to without characters who can sustain the weight

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