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Movie Review: "The Bikeriders"

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          Watching “The Bikeriders,” the word “inauthentic” kept driving through my mind. For example, I wasn’t buying pretty-boy Austin Butler as a tough biker. There is a planet where Butler can come off as intimidating and that planet is called Arrakis. Here on Earth, he looks like a clean-cut actor making a calculated decision to take on a grungy role to make people notice his range, but it’s backfiring because it is so transparent. And it’s even worse for the actors that I regarded as tough guys going into this movie. Based on other performances they’ve turned in, Michael Shannon, Damon Herriman, and Boyd Holbrook all seem like good choices for a rough-and-tumble biker pic. But here they’re buried under so much bad makeup and unconvincing acting choices that it will actually be harder for me to take them seriously the next time they try to look dangerous in a good movie.

            The movie follows a Chicago biker gang called The Vandals from the mid-60’s to the early 70’s. The main character is actually Kathy (Jodie Comer), the wife of longstanding member Benny (Butler), who is relaying stories about the gang to a reporter (the ever-frail-looking Mike Faist, fortunately not cast as a biker). Comer is a British actress doing a Midwestern accent that I think impressed friends in acting workshops with how different it was from her natural voice. I have no doubt that the accent took effort and caused strain and discomfort and I hate to say it was all in vain, but I’m sorry, it just comes off like she’s seen “Fargo” too many times.

            Speaking of laughable accents, Tom Hardy is in this movie as Johnny, the gang’s leader. His Chicago accent wasn’t too distracting at first, and it even looked for a while like he might get out of this movie with some dignity intact. But then I remembered that this was the same voice he used for Al Capone in that awful direct-to-VOD biopic back in 2020 that I only reviewed because it was gaining notoriety for being terrible. I think he leans more heavily into the accent as the character gets older, either that or I was unconsciously very forgiving in his early scenes because by the end the accent is grating.

            There’s not much of a through-line to the narrative, just stories about the gang being tough. When some bar patrons injure Benny, Johnny and the gang burn down the bar and treat getting revenge on the perpetrators as an afterthought. Benny and Kathy struggle with his decision to stay in the gang, with Benny heavily implying that he’ll choose the gang over her if he she makes him choose. The movie goes out of its way to establish an aspiring gang member (Toby Wallace) as a character without ever really tying him to The Vandals, a surefire sign that his role here is to kill somebody important.

            I can’t say that I went into “The Bikeriders” as a fan of biker culture. I can say that after seeing the movie, I’m even less of a fan. The unintentional message of the movie is that bikers are either every bit the stereotypical lowlifes they’re made out to be, or they think they’re above the lowlife stereotype, except they’re not. Real-life bikers that aren’t lowlifes should be unhappy with this movie, both because it’s a negative depiction of their lifestyle and because the ones doing the depicting are bad at their jobs.

Grade: D

“The Bikeriders” is rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality. Its running time is 116 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.