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THE BIKERIDERS: COMPELLING FROM START TO FINISH

Jeff Nichols is one of the most original writer-directors working today. If you haven’t seen Take Shelter, Mud, Loving, or Midnight Special you’re missing out. What’s more, he is utterly unpredictable, tackling a wide variety of subjects that capture his interest. His latest feature (postponed from its planned release last fall) was inspired by a 1967 book of photographs and interviews by Danny Lyon, who chronicled the life and times of a rowdy midwestern motorcycle gang called The Vandals. The story is told in flashback by Kathy (Jodie Comer), an observer and sometime-participant in the gang’s violent misadventures.

These guys don’t have a purpose or credo; they just like to hang out together smoking, drinking and riding. They don’t mind bashing heads if the occasion calls for it. And like their chief (Tom Hardy) they take pride in being the best at what they do. If anyone wants to challenge Hardy’s leadership he is open to any and all comers. Austin Butler plays his closest pal, who winds up marrying Comer and ignoring all her warnings about trouble ahead.

There isn’t a solid through-line to this eerily authentic mood piece; instead, it’s a series of vignettes set in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Inevitably the Hell’s Angels turn up at one point, emphasizing the prickly camaraderie of bikers from different parts of the U.S. Nichols’ favorite actor, Michael Shannon, contributes an amusing portrayal of an out-of-towner who ingratiates himself with the Vandals.

I haven’t spent any time exploring this culture and take Nichols’ depiction at face value. The Bikeriders has an air of authenticity, and its leading actors are completely convincing. I bought in and found the film compelling from start to finish.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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