By Chris Dos Santos
7th June 2024

Danny Lyon is a photographer who, in the 1960s, travelled with bikers through the United States Midwest. This became the book 'The Bikeriders', which showcased photography he took from 1963 to 1967 and featured interviews with people involved in the bike gangs. This photography book is the basis for Jeff Nicholas' film of the same name.

'The Bikeriders' documents the Chicago motorcycle club Vandals MC. The club is run by Johnny (Tom Hardy, 'Venom' franchise, 'Dunkirk'). We see the club starting out and its expansion across the Midwest. We also follow Benny (Austin Butler, 'Dune: Part Two', 'Elvis') who is a part of the gang, and his relationship with Kathy (Jodie Comer, 'Free Guy', 'The Last Duel'). Kathy is also being interviewed by Danny Lyon (Mike Faist, 2021's 'West Side Story', 'Challengers'), and the film jumps from her interviews to the events she is talking about.


'The Bikeriders' is fine. It's a movie that looks lovely and has great performances, but there just isn't much to grab onto. The three leads both spend so little time together while also missing from large chunks of the film. The first act is riveting but then loses gas, leaving you waiting for the engine to run out. When you learn this is based on a book of photographs it kind of makes sense; there is little story to adapt - that's not a bad thing, it just didn't stick the landing here. That even comes down to the film's title, with motorbikes feeling largely absent. We see these gangs hang out in Chicago and their day-to-day activities, which could work as a fly-on-the-wall look at this world, but it never becomes fully realised.

The only real person featured is Lyon himself, with the rest based on archetypes of people in these kinds of gangs. Finding this out only weakens the film even further. Why does it need to be based on this book at all? Even the gang's name is fictionalised. A book of photos is interesting to look at, but if there is so little linear story to adapt into a feature length motion picture, why not make a movie about that time period? Tying it to this book doesn't service the film.

The first act is riveting but then loses gas, leaving you waiting for the engine to run out.

The legacy the film will have is that of its release, originally planned for December 2023 but cancelled largely due to the actor's strikes despite still having screenings as part of the Telluride Film Festival last August. 20th Century Studios took it off the release schedule and dropped the film before it was bought by Focus Features in the U.S. and Universal Pictures internationally. An interesting journey of course, and it's lucky another studio picked up the film otherwise who knows what might have happened to it, in light of what many other studios have done with shelving completed films for tax write-offs.

'The Bikeriders' has a lot to enjoy from its visuals to its performances, however, it lacks depth in characters and story to make this a worthwhile ride.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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