MOVIES

Stylish Drama That Will Tire You Out Quickly

Make no mistake though; Jeff Nichols’ film is beautifully shot, successfully recreating several of the striking images from Danny Lyon’s book — many of which we see as a glorified slideshow over the end credits. A number of the characters were inspired by real figures interviewed within the book as well, with several interview sequences here copying the dialogue near-verbatim. Yet the heart of the very loose story is what Nichols has likened in interviews to a non-romantic “love triangle” with two very different forces vying for the undivided attention of Benny (Austin Butler). This mysterious biker has the immediate allure of a Marlon Brando or a James Dean, so it’s little surprise that housewife Kathy (Jodie Comer) separates from her husband and shacks up with him mere weeks later, hoping he’ll eventually tire of the outlaw life. But with Benny under the influence of Tom Hardy’s Johnny, keen to expand the group’s influence beyond the county and dominance over clubs further afield, he seems unable to distance himself from the simple joys of riding and fighting.

The famous line from “The Wild One,” where Brando’s antihero retorts “Whaddya got?” when asked what he’s rebelling against, has been interpreted somewhat literally by Nichols. As embodied by Butler, an actor whose every glance oozes charisma, Benny is initially a captivating strong-silent type who speaks very few words but makes every last syllable count — even if he’s only ever going to threaten you with violence or a good time. Butler makes the most out of this material, but there’s very little on the page which isn’t a facsimile of the aforementioned screen icons or cultural stereotypes of bikers; we never get the sense of whether he is aimlessly rebelling against society thanks to the thin characterization, which very quickly sees him transform from mysterious to boring before our very eyes. It’s a credit to Butler that it takes longer for this illusion of a much richer character to shatter than it would in another performer’s hands.

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