What is The Bikeriders, the new Jeff Nichols, worth? [critique]

Back after eight years of absence, Jeff Nichols tries his hand at biker films, taking inspiration from a legendary photo book by Danny Lyon. But the director of Mud and Take shelter divided the editorial staff.


In 1971, with Two-lane macadam, Monte Hellman celebrated the end of the hippie myth and its illusions, with an almost silent film, populated by ghost-beings as mechanical in their gestures as the cars they drove. Above all, Hellman refused any narrative dynamism in order to better burn his film from the inside. The Bikeriders by Jeff Nichols, inspired by a cult book of photographs by Danny Lyon about a biker gang in the sixties, resembles him. He shares this auscultation, to the point of absurdity, of the sensual and monstrous relationship of the American hero with his mount. At the end of the road, emptiness. “ Why are you here? “, ” For nothing ! » replies, amorphously, one of the bikers The Bikeriders. Others will be disappointed that everything they thought they owned (clothes, vehicles, friendships, etc.) never really belonged to them. We will therefore say that the superficial disappointment that Nichols' film produces at first glance is consubstantial with its very nature. Like a succession of photographic shots, the sequences have their own world, almost autonomous. Their interaction depends on the damaged beings who populate them, striving to give meaning to an outlaw existence disconnected from reality. In this the film, furiously lucid in its tragic beauty, thwarts the fresco side that it seemed to announce (the strong homage to the Freed) The sexy varnish (leather, stars and sticks, etc.) is flaking. We think back to this wonderful scene where Benny (perfect Austin Butler) stays all night on the leather of his bike waiting without apparent emotion for his girlfriend to accompany him onto the asphalt. The still adventure is just awakened by the coming purr of an engine. America according to Nichols, steeped in worries and hopes, has never seemed so disillusioned. In the meantime, we can always tell each other stories.


Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features / Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features / BIKERIDERS_02915.RAF / © 2024 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights


Biker culture has its totems (The Wild Team, EasyRider…) and its black diamonds (Scorpio Rising), but it always lacked its great and indisputable cinematic masterpiece. It won't be this time, but Jeff Nichols, at least, will have tried. All along The Bikeriders, we see him chasing his fantasy of the great American novel of motorized rebellion. The problem is that he couldn't decide which film he wanted to make. He procrastinates, moves from one proposition to another, hesitates between Scorsesian exploration of a ritualized underworld, and a postmodern fetishism inherited from The Loveless by Kathryn Bigelow, where the bikers looked more like fantasy projections than beings of flesh and blood. He also intends to tell how Danny Lyon (played by Mike Faist) composed the legendary photo book which gives its title to the film – a great idea, but which remains in draft form. Borrowings from Freed (freeze frame before explosion of violence, voice-over, rewinding of the action) are terribly clichéd, when the scenes of Jodie Comer's interview by Mike Faist border on the unintentional comic – she is questioned in every domestic situation imaginable, from laundry, ironing clothes, frying eggs, etc. The film only really works on its group portrait side, chronicle laid back numb, skipping nicely from one secondary character to another, offering each one (Michael Shannon, Norman Reedus…) their scene, their moment. But these scattered moments never aggregate into a coherent whole. It's very soft, too wise. When Kathy (Comer) recounts her first ecstatic ride on the back of Benny's (Austin Butler) motorcycle, we have to take her word for it – we don't feel it. The “Freedmen biker movie » remains to be done.

By Jeff Nichols. With Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy… Duration 1h56. Released June 19, 2024


Leave a Comment