There is very little doubt that The Bikeriders should be one of the films of the year. It has one of the most talented director/screenwriters going around at its helm and a cast of A-Listers that would even make Marvel blush. Hell, I was actually counting down the days until I got to see this film but sadly I have to say that The Bikeriders just doesn’t live up to the hype that I had formed around it – and sadly that is for one small reason.

Directed by Mike Nichols The Bikeriders is based on a famous book put together by Danny Lyon who found himself captivated by the lifestyle of a motorcycle gang in the Mid-West of America during the 1970s.

Danny (played by Mike Faust) is also the framework and foundation of this film. The plot follows the stories that are revealed as Danny sits down to interview Kathy (Jodie Comer) a woman who was accidentally introduced to the gang, known as The Vandals, when she walked into a bar one night.

At first Kathy is repulsed by the behaviour of the likes of Zipco (Michael Shannon) and gang leader Johnny (Tom Hardy). But her perception soon changes when the enigmatic Benny (Austin Butler) catches her eye. It is lust at first sight and within twenty-four hours Kathy’s boyfriend is a forgotten memory and within five weeks she is married to Benny.

It is through Kathy’s stories that we are then shown how the gang changed from being just a group of friends who enjoyed riding together through to an organisation full of violence and rules that became a burden for the man that just wanted to have fun, Johnny. At the same time we see how Kathy’s thoughts about changing Benny into the perfect husband may just be a pipe dream that will never come into realisation.

I am actually surprised that Nichols couldn’t turn The Bikeriders into something special as this is a story that could have been turned into a masterpiece and as we’ve seen from films like Mud and Shotgun Stories this is a filmmaker that really knows how to bring a captivating story to the screen. But with The Bikeriders I felt like he was hamstrung by the fact that he never seems to tell the whole story.

One example is after the gang decide to go and get revenge after an attack on Benny Kathy makes the statement that that was a moment when Johnny really went crazy. We then see Johnny take revenge on a bar owner but we never get to see the moment when he and the rest of the gang go face-to-face with the two men that actually did the attack themselves. Was that left out to cut down the run time of the film or was it left out because it was potentially a violent moment that may have caused a higher classification or changed the audiences view of Johnny? It probably doesn’t matter why it was left out because it was a pivotal part of the plot that needed to have been seen.

There are also moments in this film that I found made the plot feel disjointed. The arrival of the character known as The Kid (Toby Wallace) is handled very clumsily. His story begins before his introduction to the gang which is slightly puzzling to the audience and then when he meets the gang at a picnic he asks who he has to speak to in order to join the gang and is told Johnny who is less than 20 metres from him – yet for some reason he waits a few days and approaches Johnny elsewhere. It makes zero sense and again is puzzling to the audience why The Kid just seems to disappear from the picnic in the first place.

There were two things that I thought saved this film though and made it passable. First of all was the acting. Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy and Norman Reedus deliver amazing performances and for once I feel this is a time when some great actors make a bad script look good. Sadly though Reedus and Shannon are dangerously under-used with characters that are never fully developed.

I must say though my thoughts around Austin Butler have changed a lot since Elvis. Back then I thought he was an over-rated actor but since seeing Masters Of The Air, Dune Part II and now The Bikeriders I feel that he is a once in a lifetime talent. This kid can act and has the presence and coolness of James Dean – in fact if he doesn’t play James Dean at some stage then a great opportunity has been missed. Here Butler literally smoulders on the screen – he doesn’t need dialogue to show the audience how he is feeling he just needs a look or a glance.

The second thing that works for The Bikeriders is the atmosphere and how it captures the 1970s. The costuming, the set design and soundtrack are amazing and makes the audience feel like they have just time-travelled back to the 70s Mid-West.

Sadly The Bikeriders is let down by a screenplay that needed a serious re-write but I would still revisit this film in the future simply for the performances of its talented cast.

3/5 Stars