The Bikeriders is based on Danny Lyon’s photography book from 1967 about Outlaws MC, one of America’s numerous motorbike groups. Beginning in the 1960s and spanning a decade, Jeff Nichols’s good-looking movie follows the Vandals, a tight tribe that lives by its own code and is led by a charismatic chieftain. Events leads to the unravelling of a group that take pride in its outlier status but is unequipped to deal with changes from within.

While the Vandals are all men, their chronicler is a woman. In conversations with Danny Lyon (Mike Faist), Kathy (Jodie Comer) provides a perspective of the Vandals that is decidedly less romantic than the gang’s view of itself.

Kathy is a goner when she first lays eyes on Vandals member Benny (Austin Butler). Benny, who has the brooding mien of James Dean, is a favourite of the Vandals leader Johnny (Tom Hardy). Kathy is a witness to and participant in the group’s highs and lows, particularly locked in a turf war with Johnny over Benny’s loyalties.

Nichols’s screenplay imagines the Vandals as a biking version of a secretive Mafia family. Kathy’s voiceover, which has echoes of Martin Scorsese’s Mafia-themed Goodfellas (1990), is a mix of wonderment, irritation and helplessness. Try as she might, Kathy can neither persuade Benny to leave the Vandals nor shake his loyalty to Johnny.

The Bikeriders (2024).

The film’s title is telling. Nichols’s 118-minute drama is barely interested in the bikes and a little more keen on the men who ride them. Dennis Hopper’s classic Easy Rider (1969) probably does more for the biking culture cause than this movie. In an odd choice, Nichols drowns out the characteristic thundering of the rugged vintage bikes with songs.

The lack of a central character leading the narrative leads to a movie without a strong, compelling core. The rebels without a cause fall apart for reasons that are not always clear.

The loosely structured vignettes, while not exactly piercing, have the same warmth as Adam Stone’s sun-kissed cinematography. The focus on group dynamics plays to Nichols’s other strengths as a director.

The Vandals very much feel like a family led by a benevolent autocrat. Tom Hardy plays Johnny with a whiny voice, physical strength and superbly judged economy.

Nichols’s affection towards actors extends beyond the leads to the secondary characters. Michael Shannon, Boyd Holbrook and Damon Herriman each have fine turns as Johnny’s foot soldiers.

Although Austin Butler has top billing, his laconic, impossibly perfectly coiffured Benny remains a cipher, and not a very interesting one at that. The movie’s scene stealer is the woman who rides pillion.

Jodie Comer is terrific as Kathy, whose exasperation over her husband’s allegiance to the Vandals borders on the comic at times. Kathy is concerned without being shrill, committed to the Vandals while also forever bewildered at what the fuss is all about. There are moments in The Bikeriders when viewers might find themselves agreeing with Kathy.

The Bikeriders (2024).