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Jodie Comer jaw-droppingly amazing in ‘The Bikeriders’ — Play It Again, Tim

Jodie Comer plays Kathy in “The Bikeriders.” (Focus Features)
Written by Tim Miller

Last year, it was Lily Gladstone. This year, it’s Jodie Comer.

Gladstone’s performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” was the cinematic highlight of 2023. Though this year is far from over, it’s hard to imagine anyone who will knock your socks off in the same way Comer does in Jeff Nichols’ must-see “The Bikeriders” (R, 116 minutes, in theaters).

On the surface, the two portrayals couldn’t be more different. In “Flower Moon,” Gladstone, as an Osage woman victimized by a greedy white husband, is the personification of restraint, dominating the screen with a glance or a few choice words. In “The Bikeriders,” Comer plays Kathy, the chatty girlfriend/eventual wife of taciturn biker dude Benny (Austin Butler), and just listening to her as the film’s primary storyteller is spellbinding. Comer affects a quirky Chicago accent in an engaging, funny way that comes across as so natural you’d never guess the actress is a Liverpool native.

Jodie Comer plays Kathy in “The Bikeriders.” (Focus Features)

Jodie Comer plays Kathy in “The Bikeriders.” (Focus Features)

Her performance goes way beyond the way she delivers her lines, however. She so inhabits her guileless, openhearted character that you feel you’re in the same room with this endearing person. There is no artifice, no acting, evident. It’s extraordinary.

And while it’s Comer’s work that left my mouth agape, Butler and the always amazing Tom Hardy, as motorcycle-gang leader Johnny, also are brilliant in what easily is one of the best biker movies ever made.

Based on a photo book from the 1960s, “The Bikeriders” covers, through three interviews with Kathy and accompanying flashbacks, the story of the Vandals, a Chicago-based motorcycle gang. It starts in 1965, when Johnny, a truck driver, sees Marlon Brando – playing a biker leader also named Johnny – in the movie “The Wild One” on TV:

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”

“Whadda You Got?”

Inspired, truck driver Johnny – who, as played by Hardy, sounds a bit like a Brando character – starts his own club, which becomes the Vandals.

Kathy enters the picture when she unwittingly enters a biker get-together and sees Benny leaning forward against a pool table. When he appears at her table, both play it cool – “What are we doing here, just shooting the breeze?” she asks in her typical straight-shooter way – but it’s clear romantic sparks are flying, and soon she’s riding on the back of his chopper, her life forever changed.

It’s during that first ride that Kathy gets a sense of the appeal of the biker life. She and Benny are riding along at night when she hears the other club members approaching. She turns, sees the chopper headlights arriving in formation, and it all starts to make sense to her. “Have to admit,” she says, “took my breath away.”

Director Nichols adds to the dreamlike effect by playing the Shangri-Las’ “Out in the Streets” – the perfect accompaniment for this moment, creating a sublime scene that truly is breathtaking.

Tom Hardy, left, as Johnny, and Austin Butler, as Benny, in “The Bikeriders.” (Focus Features)

Tom Hardy, left, as Johnny, and Austin Butler, as Benny, in “The Bikeriders.” (Focus Features)

Of course, “The Bikeriders” also depicts barbaric behavior that’s anything but sublime. Already a rough crowd filled with misfits with a penchant for violence, the club becomes more of a criminal enterprise, which includes execution-style murder, as membership grows and Johnny loses control.

But before things turn particularly ugly, the film provides an explanation of why these misfits come together for the club. As Johnny’s right-hand man, Brucie (Damon Herriman), explains, “Everybody wants to be part of something.”

It’s the camaraderie, combined with a sense of freedom (Cream’s “I Feel Free” plays on the soundtrack to emphasize the point) and rebellion (exemplified by Benny leading a trail of police cruisers on a chase), that bring these guys together. Fear of dying on a bike? They want to die on a bike.

As Nichols (“Loving,” “Mud,” “Take Shelter”) seamlessly blends the overall story of the gang with the intertwined relationships of Kathy, Benny and Johnny, he provides one memorable sequence after another, often enhanced by little touches.

A favorite:

Johnny comes to visit Benny, who’s been seriously injured, to try to persuade him to join the club on a road trip. Kathy, worried for Benny’s health and safety, and feeling a sense of competition with Johnny for Benny, doesn’t like it.

While Johnny’s talking to Benny, Kathy loudly shakes ice in a cup.

“You want a drink, Johnny?” she asks.

“I’m good,” he replies.

On the page, all of this might sound routine. Given the subtext, and the way the lines are delivered by Comer and Hardy, the scene is a comic gem.

The whole cast – which includes Michael Shannon and Norman Reedus as bikers and Mike Faist (“Challengers”) as the photographer-interviewer documenting the lives of the club members – is excellent.

But Comer, Hardy and Austin are beyond excellent; you feel privileged to watch them at work.

Comer’s performance, especially, is one for the ages. **** (out of four)

Lighthearted look at aging

Thelma” (PG-13, 97 minutes, in theaters), a lighthearted comedy, delivers much more innocent fare.

June Squibb and Richard Roundtree in a scene from “Thelma.” (Magnolia Pictures)

June Squibb and Richard Roundtree in a scene from “Thelma.” (Magnolia Pictures)

June Squibb (“Nebraska”) plays the 93-year-old title character (based on a real Thelma), who loses $10,000 in a scam and decides to do something about it. Hopping on a friend’s motorized scooter, she sets off across Los Angeles to retrieve her money. The friend (Richard Roundtree, in his final performance) reluctantly accompanies her on the quest, while her panicked daughter (Parker Posey), son-in-law (Clark Gregg) and grandson (Fred Hechinger) try to track her down.

The film, written and directed by Josh Margolin, focuses on Thelma’s determination to live as fully and freely as she can, despite her age. But it also acknowledges that diminished capabilities often come with age, for some sooner than for others. Not everyone can be a Thelma, the film suggests, but that doesn’t mean they should just give in to age, either.

“Thelma” makes its points playfully; even the villain (Malcolm McDowell), while his actions are despicable, is relatively harmless, and possibly redeemable. The best parts of the movie involve the sweet relationship between Thelma and her goodhearted grandson, Daniel, and how they need and support each other.

While the film is, in keeping with the elderly characters, slow-paced, and, at times, far-fetched, its gentle humor and warm heart will likely win over moviegoers. ***

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Cape Cod Wave Magazine covers the character & culture of Cape Cod. Please see our Longform stories.


Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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