BEST known as the director of Spielbergian sci-fi Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols has been largely AWOL from Hollywood in recent years. While rumoured involvement in a new Aliens film petered, Nichols actively pulled out of the third Quiet Place feature. Not since 2016’s Oscar-nominated Loving has his name graced the silver screen.

This week, Nichols breaks his hiatus with The Bikeriders, a star-studded adaptation of the 1967 Danny Lyon photographic journal of the same name. It’s a gritty little film, potent and impactful in its exploration of a time, place and very specific community. A little like Rowan Joffé’s take on Brighton Rock, albeit with a greater rush of originality.

Tom Hardy stars here as Johnny, a truck driver by profession and the founding leader of The Vandals in every other waking moment of his life. This being a Chicago motorbike club in which only the smell of oil overpowers that of testosterone.

Leather clad members of the club include Michael Shannon’s Zipco, Damon Herriman’s Brucie and Emory Cohen’s Cockroach. Best of the bunch, however, is Benny, who is played with oozing masculine sexuality by Elvis star Austin Butler. Young and spunky, Benny is both Johnny ideal candidate for successional leadership and the member most liable to cause trouble. He does. Certainly, it is Benny’s actions that see the bikers veer increasingly into criminality.

Only Jodie Comer’s fiercely confident Kathy pulls back Benny’s worst impulses. She alone sees the absurdities that haunt the Vandals’ world. They’re rule breakers and makers and macho alphas who depend on their wives to win the bread. Only Kathy sees the inevitability of the path down which Benny’s choices will see him ride.

There’s something of the West Side Story to The Bikeriders - and not least owing to the presence of Mike Faist, who here plays Lyon himself, having made his film debut in 2021 as Spielberg’s Riff. It’s in the power plays and the narrative tug of war that drags Benny between the headstrong influences of Johnny and Kathy.

You’d be hard pressed to call this subtle cinema - the accents alone dance in broad strokes - but it’s a thrill nonetheless. We must hope that it doesn’t take Nichols a further seven years to deliver his next film. He’s a talent too brimming with potential for such a thin filmographic spread.