Movie review: Austin Butler, Tom Hardy fuel 'Bikeriders' nostalgia, danger

Austin Butler stars in "The Bikeriders." Photo courtesy of Focus Features
1 of 5 | Austin Butler stars in "The Bikeriders." Photo courtesy of Focus Features

LOS ANGELES, June 17 (UPI) -- The Bikeriders, in theaters Friday, is a lovingly crafted homage to outlaw culture in the '60s. However, it is not blinded by the legend and presents the devastatingly dangerous side of it, too.

In the film, a photojournalist interviews Kathy (Jodie Comer), the wife of Vandals Chicago motorcycle gang member Benny (Austin Butler) in the '60s. Kathy describes the Vandals' lifestyle under President Johnny (Tom Hardy).


Early scenes use the camera, editing and music to capture the energy of motorcycle culture. It's infectious enough to overcome even the greatest disinterest in two-wheeled vehicles.

The actors pose like they're posing for photographs, as the film is based on a photo book by Danny Lyon. Benny, for example, leans on a pool table or hunches over a bar, conveying his attitude with his body language.

The Vandals quickly expand from Chicago to chapters around the country. But establishing a system of organizational rules amounts to fighting to settle disputes.

Other motorcycle clubs pick fights with the Vandals, so brawls erupt everywhere they go. The Vandals take extreme retribution on anyone who harms them. It's not an eye for an eye, so the price for harming a Vandal is exponentially higher.


The culture is seen through Kathy's eyes. She's the articulate one who can answer the journalist's questions, but as soon as Benny's not around, this world is dangerous for Kathy.

Johnny realizes some truths, though he can't verbalize them. But he notices that no matter how hard he tries to live by a code, he can't convince the younger generation to adopt it.

What is beyond any of these men, but not beyond writer-director Jeff Nichols, is that whatever code they think they live by breeds violence. Their best friends commit violence against each other, but excluding a violent person can be even more dangerous because their resentment triggers even more violence.

By the '70s, the next generation was attracted to the most dangerous parts of motorcycle clubs. Johnny started the Vandals so people could ride in packs, but by the '70s, people saw it as an excuse to break the law in a hotbed of mutual abuse.

The Bikeriders is full of real vehicular stunts. Bike races and driving between cars are the most showy, but any time an actor sits on a moving vehicle, it's a stunt.

The Bikeriders take viewers into this volatile world from a safe distance. It shows how the threat of violence ultimately outweighs any appeal of freedom and community such gangs purport to offer.


Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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