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“The Bikeriders”: the motorcycle club story with Austin Butler and Tom Hardy is out now!

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Released on June 21, The Bikeriders is an American crime drama movie directed and written by Jeff Nichols, who was inspired by Danny Lyon’s photo book of the same name published in 1967. Starring Austin Butler (Benny), Jodie Comer (Kathy), Tom Hardy (Johnny), Mike Faist (Danny), Norman Reedus (Funny Sonny), and Michael Shannon (Zipco), it tells the story of how the fictional Midwestern motorcycle club The Vandals went from a gathering place for local bikers to a dangerous criminal gang. 

The plot and character development

In the late 1960s, Kathy narrates the club’s rise and fall to Danny, a photography student recording conversations of The Vandals members for a potential book. As soon as the movie narration begins, it is shown a scene of her telling the story of how she met Benny at a biker bar. He is described as a reckless and impulsive man who just got into the club. According to her, they got married five weeks later. Despite the club being created by Johnny, a character who is presented later, the movie’s development begins with Kathy and Benny’s relationship, which seems to be an attempt to paint them as the main characters. 

Kathy is a strong-willed woman who became part of The Vandals due to her husband but also wants him to leave because he starts to get too involved. Benny’s passion for riding with the club begins to affect their relationship, with him being attacked in a bar by outsiders and having his ankle broken. In another episode, he started a fight during a picnic because he thought a discussion was happening. The newest member would never back up for a fight, especially in The Vandals’ name. The movie perfectly addresses Benny’s need for belonging to something else than just marriage.

Johnny is presented as a married man who felt inspired to create the club by watching Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), a movie that certainly was used as an inspiration for the production. Although it is said that he is also a father, this part of his story is left out. It is not possible to learn about his wife and children´s feelings towards The Vandals, an element that would help the character development and the audience to get to know Johnny’s motivations. Everything we know is that he is a devoted man to The Vandals who wants Benny to be his successor. Furthermore, he is an important character for the continuity of the scenes, as he owns the club, and his leadership is constantly challenged.

Kathy, Benny, and Johnny are the ones with more time on screen, but there are other characters with different personalities who make the club memorable. One example is Zipco (Michael Shannon), a man of few words who wanted to go to Vietnam with no explanation. There is also Cockroach (Emory Cohen), a biker who always wanted to become a motorcycle officer (his desire will bring him trouble throughout the story). Even though Jeff Nichols managed to give each character its moment to shine, the trio is the focus of the movie and our attention. On some occasions during the movie, it can be hard to remember all the club members’ names and faces while Kathy is recapping the facts. 

Moment of biggest tension

Fists or knives? That’s the question Johnny would ask to anyone interested in fighting for The Vandals’ control. The first challenger wanted to open a branch of the club in another city. Although it happened, both of them got into a physical fight with no weapons which ended up with Johnny winning. That episode represented the male inconsistency because the leader actually liked the idea of expanding the club, but he wanted to be the first one to ever suggest this.  

In the second fight, a boy named “The Kid” (Toby Wallace), who at first wanted to join the club but wasn’t accepted, chose to challenge Johnny with knives. However, he cheated on the deal when he appeared with a gun, changing the club’s future for good. This scene exemplifies the search for power and leadership among the bikers at that time.  

In the previous hours of the confrontation, it is shown a concerned Johnny looking for Benny, but he had left the town after an incident. It’s clear in the movie that he had a bad feeling about it and wanted to have someone to count on if something happened. Their relationship is well explored, being much more than just a friendship. It is possible to say that it is almost a father-and-son kind of relationship, as Benny is much younger than Johnny and was always defended by him. 

Inspired, but not based

As it was mentioned before, The Bikeriders is a production inspired by Danny Lyon’s book that captured the life of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club (the original name) members with black-and-white pictures. He spent three years among these people, being an example of the New Journalism era as Lyon expressed his subjectivity towards the theme. He completely immersed himself in the story and that is shown in the movie, as he became a member too. 

Unfortunately, The Bikeriders has a lot of fictional details. Its plot is the pure creation of the director, who used a combination of quotes and interviews from the writer to come up with the movie story. Its main concern is not telling true facts, which can be disappointing because the film has great scenes that are just too good to not be based on reality. 

When it comes to the movie characters, some of them were thankfully inspired by real people, such as Benny, Kathy, Johnny, Funny Sonny, Zipco, and Cal (Boyd Holbrook). One important element that is shown in both the film and book is the risk of riding a motorcycle without a helmet. In The Bikeriders, a character dies after suffering an accident without wearing it, teaching some kind of “lesson” to the other bikers and also the audience. 

The acting

It’s no wonder that Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, and Tom Hardy are the main actors. They had outstanding performances and their method of acting is something to be recognized. Butler fits perfectly as a charming rebel version of James Dean. The actor didn’t have access to any recording of the real Benny, so his character’s voice was a result of his creation, which may seem difficult to distance himself from his character in Elvis (2022) for some audiences. Comer could see a couple of pictures and audios of Kathy, but she put an effort into creating an accent from Chicago that was similar to the original one. It was not an easy task because the actress was born in Liverpool, but she managed to deliver an impressive performance as a storyteller. Hardy did a wonderful job acting as the club leader. Johnny seems to be a wannabe Marlon Brando, but with a paternal personality that is expressed in his attitude toward Benny, without leaving his “steady hand” behind. 

The conventional representation of biker culture

Cigarettes, leather jackets, tattoos, and riding a motorcycle on the open road, The Bikeriders sums up very well the biker culture during the 60s and 70s in a conventional way. The rebellious lifestyle was a thing during that period and the movie addresses that when referring to films and actors at that time (for example Marlon Brando mentioned before). Despite failing to represent real facts, Jeff Nichols’ new cinematic production symbolizes counterculture and the sense of freedom while bringing back to the big screen this era of movies that inspired the creation of motorcycle clubs, but now with a significant change: it is a woman who tells the story in her perspective of a very male environment.   


The article above was edited by Isabelle Bignardi.

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Larissa Buzon Cardoso

Casper Libero '26

Journalism student who loves writing. I am keen on fashion, music, art and TV series.