Category Archives: Jeff Nichols

The Bikeriders-2024

The Bikeriders-2024

Director Jeff Nichols

Starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #1,431

Reviewed July 1, 2024

Grade: A-

The Bikeriders (2024) immediately informs the audience of the time and place the film will be told. A dry and dusty midwestern, USA between 1965-1973 is the window explored and the defiance of the characters drawn.

This period is the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, assassinations, Woodstock, and many other historical moments. Dangerous, the culture and people were changing and very rebellious.

Director Jeff Nichols, who also wrote the screenplay based on ‘The Bikeriders’ by Danny Lyon wonderfully presents a time capsule of a group of bikers who forged their subculture away from the uncertainty of the rest of the world.

After a chance encounter at a local biker bar, strong-willed Kathy (Jodie Comer) is drawn to handsome and mysterious Benny (Austin Butler), the newest member of the Midwestern motorcycle club, the Vandals led by the enigmatic Johnny (Tom Hardy).

Much like the country around it, the club changes with time, transforming from a basic gathering place for local outsiders into an underworld of violence, forcing Benny to choose between Kathy and his loyalty to the club.

The strongest parts of The Bikeriders are the beginning and end with portions in the middle section making it drag and lowering a potential ‘A’ rating to an ‘A-‘.

But the other sections are so rich with characterization and events that they usurp the dull parts.

Nichols, who has also directed Take Shelter (2011), Mud (2012), and Loving (2016) likes to focus on the decade of the 1960s in America with conflicted characters. He likes to work with Michael Shannon who has a small yet pivotal role as a man who ponders life.

We meet Benny in a bar where he sips a drink. He is hastily told by two local thugs to remove his biker jacket. After a bloody fight in the parking lot, we realize how much the biker club means to him and what it symbolizes.

It’s a club where the vermin, weirdos, undesirables, and those cast aside by society find a place and are cared for by one another. That is until the years pass and things change by meaner and less loyal bikers.

The symbolism resonates with all because time never stands still and good things always come to an end.

The Bikeriders is told from the perspective of Kathy through a series of interviews with her friend, Danny (Mike Faist). He is the real-life author of the book the film is based on.

Comer is outstanding in the lead female role. She is strong and resilient, attracted to the dangerous lifestyle and the bikers, but only has eyes for Benny and will not be taken advantage of.

She chronicles specific events like fights, death, and rape, in painful yet thoughtful detail inviting the audience into her dark world.

Butler and Hardy are also terrific. Arguably co-leads, Butler’s Benny is childless, freer than Hardy’s Johnny, a family man. Johnny sees Benny as the next leader of the Vipers but Benny wants none of that.

Both men are tortured by comparisons to the club and life outside the club. During a long homoerotic scene, Johnny and Benny are dangerously close to kissing as Johnny discloses the reasons why Benny should lead the club.

The scene is smoldering as the unspoken connection can be felt in raw form. Nichols doesn’t dare to make the film into anything LGBTQ+ related but the nuances and subtleties exist.

Besides the acting, the gritty environment oozes with richness. The soiled biker bars, sticky floors laden with blood, beer, and vomit, emit from the silver screen.

You can almost smell the environment.

The bad teeth, foul language, and tacky midwestern accents, all portray the loneliness of these characters and how they cling to the club for dear life.

Nichols and the author Lyon depict a fresh look into the world of motorcyclists and the culture they lived and died in for a brief time. The Bikeriders (2024) presents violence mixed with brotherhood and loyalty which is fascinating to watch.

Take Shelter-2011

Take Shelter-2011

Director Jeff Nichols

Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #1,150

Reviewed June 9, 2021

Grade: B+

Michael Shannon is a great actor. Appearing mostly in supporting roles and breaking out big time in 2008’s Revolutionary Road he gets the lead in Take Shelter (2011) and is more than up to the task of creating a great character.

The ambivalence and uncertainty his character feels are monumental to the enjoyment of the film.

It’s a slow burn and an unsatisfying payoff but I mean that with positive praise.

The plot is set in a small rural town in Ohio.

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a working-class husband, father, and provider to his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and young daughter Hannah. Curtis begins to have scary apocalyptic dreams which he keeps from his family.

He decides to build a storm shelter in his backyard which raises concerns for Samantha. His strange behavior creates a strain on his family. As he builds the shelter, Curtis is afraid of his dreams, or rather, afraid that they are a premonition and will come true.

Is he going crazy, or will his dreams become a devastating reality?

Curtis, Samantha, and the entire audience will ponder this note throughout the film.

An interesting add-on is that Hannah is deaf so the way her parents embrace and accept her disability is a nice nod to the inclusiveness of people with disabilities.

Take Shelter is delightful to revisit and discuss ten years following its release. In 2011, both Shannon and Chastain were up-and-coming stars and only barely on the cusp of A-list status so it’s fun to see them in an independent film that showcases their acting chops.

They would grow to be big stars and flourish their talents in many other roles so it’s fun to see them in early-career performances.

Shannon is careful not to outshine Chastain, but Curtis’s focal point is what is going on internally. His conflict is palpable and written all over his face in quiet scene after quiet scene after quiet scene of his gazing at the luminous skies.

He wonders what is coming next.

His dreams, hallucinations, and auditory experiences involving swarms of blackbirds are creepy and well-made on a small budget. A clue is when it is revealed that Curtis’s mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at roughly the same age that Curtis is.

A drained Curtis seeks counseling but still cannot shake his feelings of impending doom. I felt completely empathetic to his plight and never saw Curtis as crazy or out of control. He possesses controlled restrain.

Director Jeff Nichols does an exceptional job of making the film largely quiet and peaceful with a gnawing and foreboding dread just as the expected apocalypse might come upon the lonely town.

Take Shelter is the debut by Nichols who followed up this gem with two other low-key but critically acclaimed films Mud (2012) and Loving (2016). He knows how to get to the core of his character’s deepest thoughts and feelings.

He wrote each of these works and received praise for fine writing.

The film is about the relationship between the characters and the possibility that Curtis is going insane. I’m not sure Take Shelter provides a neatly wrapped conclusion but boy is it an edge-of-your-seat thrill. And why does it need to?

Shannon’s best scene occurs at a Lions Club community event. With most of the town gathered in the hall for a delicious dinner of pot luck dishes things go bad when Curtis loses his temper and verbally berates the townspeople. He warns them that they are unprepared for the doom.

They look at him as if he belongs in a padded cell and Shannon’s explosion is frightening and frighteningly good.

As good as Shannon is, Chastain must not be dismissed. She barely holds it together as a woman with a special needs child and an unbalanced husband. When they lose their health insurance she nearly comes apart at the seams.

I love the ending because Nichols leaves the truth of reality a mystery to the audience. This may dissatisfy some but I thought it’s how Take Shelter should be. Unclear, just like the thoughts of its main character.

Take Shelter (2011) succeeds with a powerhouse performance by its star Michael Shannon, wonderful direction, and a refined imbalance.

The quiet and thoughtful cinema fan will endear the most to this film.