Jeff Nichols brings pure Americana to the Telluride Film Festival with his luscious period drama “The Bikeriders,” which feels like the distant older cousin of “The Outsiders.” It stands as his single best directorial outing, and in tow are a trio of invigorating performances from Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy, all putting their stamp on an awards season that will be undoubtedly competitive.
Based on the 1968 photo and interview book by Danny Lyon, “The Bikeriders” tells a fictional story inspired by a Midwestern motorcycle club, seen through its members’ lives over a decade.
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Nichols, who writes and directs, has carved out a special lane of talented American filmmakers who are able to wrangle honest and moving performances from the likes of Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Mud”). He does it once again with his actors including Butler, Hardy and Comer.
Butler shows he can do far more than just play Elvis Presley. Fresh off last year’s inaugural nom for “Elvis,” his role as Benny, which is much more internalized than you would expect, will offer another opportunity to invite him to the ceremony. Another riveting turn from the young actor.
Hardy has been a dynamite actor with his fair share of critical darlings and blockbusters to his credit. As Johnny, the leader of the motorcycle gang, you see the British actor skirting the line between Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” and Robert DeNiro in “Goodfellas.” Hardy’s first and only nom was for best supporting actor for his villainous turn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant” (2015). This could put him in contention of a second.
The past few years have shown an industry flirtation with a possible Comer Oscar nomination, following her surprise Emmy win for BBC’s “Killing Eve” in 2017. When Julie Huntsinger, executive director of Telluride spoke with Variety about the festival lineup, she said she didn’t recognize her. “I left the screening and went to IMDb on my phone because I wanted to know who this actress was, and I was shocked it was her.”
She was right. What a delight as she anchors the movie sporting a Midwestern accent and managing to steal focus in almost any scene she inhabits. Much of the discussion will surround where she decides to campaign, either in lead or supporting actress, which will also be the case for Butler and Hardy.
Like many movies with a sprawling cast, expect the film to be a candidate for the SAG Awards cast ensemble category. It features Nichols’ frequent collaborator Shannon, in addition to Mike Faist, Boyd Holbrook, Toby Wallace, Norman Reedus and Emory Cohen.
Though most of Nichols’ six films have garnered critical acclaim, only a single Oscar nom has come for any of his movies: best actress for “Loving” star Ruth Negga. Under the guidance of distributor 20th Century Studios, perhaps it can tack on more. A nom for directing would be more than overdue and deserved.
Artisan categories are beautiful to look at, featuring stunning cinematography by Adam Stone, and crisp editing by Julie Monroe.
Will it be able to ride into the Oscars? As the starting gun of Telluride, I would suggest so.
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