To the rumbling thrum of greasy testosterone, and with a Midwest accent thicker than a congealed slick of oil, Jodie Comer roars into her first Great American Film Role. And in his finest effort yet, Mud director Jeff Nichols has given her quite the machine to ride on.
“Inspired” by Danny Lyon’s 1968 photojournalism book of the same title, The Bikeriders follows the fist-flailing rise and far darker demise of the fictional Chicago Vandals motorcycle gang in the mid Sixties. From the moment Austin Butler, oozing monosyllabic moodiness (and looking hotter than ever, FYI), smashes the opening scene to glorious smithereens, you pray this movie isn’t going to run out of road.
Much of the story is narrated by Kathy (Comer) in interviews to a character supposed to be Lyon, as she recalls being irresistibly, romantically pulled into the gang by Benny (Butler) and then the evolving beef for Benny’s attention between her and Vandals’ leader Johnny (Tom Hardy). This device is the film’s weakest element, Nichols perhaps feeling a need to pay tribute to Lyon, who spent a huge amount of time interviewing the real-life bikers, but Comer, all dopey, dismissive eye-rolls and pitch-perfect gestures, nails these scenes.
As for when the drama goes full throttle, it’s Comer again who is the spark that keeps Hardy and Butler dancing. We already know she’s the real deal, but whatever subtle magic she does with those eyes is on another level. Biker gangs being bikers gangs (at least back in the Sixties), everything accelerates towards more excessive danger and violence at the end of the decade. Bare knuckles turn to knives; blades turn to guns.
Hardy, Comer and Butler are the perfect, top-of-their game trio to lift a fairly predictable tale into something approaching unforgettable. Even Hardy (whose star hasn’t been shining as brightly recently) is on fire. Shock! For once, he actually has plenty of words to say, and his alpha status is nicely tempered by giving him a croaky-frog voice. Butler, meanwhile, embodies the all-mood, minimal articulation of Benny brilliantly.
Everything is played out against a delicious soundtrack of Sixties deep cuts, and while Nichols could have probably got away with simply adding Comer in retro leather and sending her down a classic Americana-strewn highway on a Harley, he offers a much more engaging story. And if you’re a sucker for cracking endings, that’ll blow you away too.
If Comer was looking for a way to fully cement herself across the Atlantic, she couldn’t have hopped on the back of a better beast than this.
116 mins, cert 15
Screening at the Royal Festival Hall today at 11.15am and at the BFI Southbank on Monday at 12.10pm. In cinemas from December 1