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Review: Outlaws Is a Brutal, Nasty, and Stupid Biker Drama

Stephen McCallum’s relentlessly grim drama is completely lacking in wit and genre thrills.

Photo: A24

The grim Australian biker drama Outlaws is little more than an endless stream of brooding, yelling, and “badass” posturing broken up by grisly violence and gratuitous sex scenes. Matt Nable’s humorless script attempts to mold a dirtbag-Shakespearean tragedy out of the internal power struggles of an outlaw motorcycle club known as the Copperheads, pitting the gang’s sociopathic president, Knuck (Matt Nable)—recently released from a stint in prison—against his business-minded second-in-command, Mark (Ryan Corr).

Mark’s been focused on growing the club’s cash flow and membership rolls while the boss was locked up, but now that Knuck is out and back in command, he wants to get the gang back to its roots: two-fisted barbarism. If this conflict sounds eerily familiar to viewers of The Wire, that’s because it’s essentially a crude knock-off of the complex relationship dynamic between cool-headed Avon Barksdale and gangster-warrior Stringer Bell in the HBO show. One only wishes the film had stolen more from David Simon’s classic crime drama. Instead, director Stephen McCallum is mostly content to ape the testosterone-addled biker theatrics of Sons of Anarchy, though without even that show’s lunk-headed sense of fun.

In many ways, Outlaws feels less like a standalone film than an extended pilot for a series that wasn’t picked up. We know within 10 minutes that a showdown between Mark and Knuck is inevitable, but rather than sharpening the conflict or ramping up the stakes, McCallum spends most of the film’s runtime on tedious, go-nowhere subplots that serve little purpose other than to deepen our contempt for the characters. Take, for instance, the revelation that aggro-masculine Knuck developed a taste for men while in prison, a predilection he indulges exclusively by raping weaker men. This detail might have complicated our understanding of Knuck, but McCallum never explores its implications, allowing Knuck himself to have the final word on the matter when he justifies raping guys as an ultra-manly power move.

These are dumb, macho thugs with no apparent interests outside of brawling and fucking, the kind of guys whose idea of a joke is to offer a butch biker a vodka and orange juice, a drink they apparently consider un-masculine. And the women in the film—Mark’s girlfriend, Katrina (Abbey Lee), and Knuck’s wife, Hayley (Simone Kessell)—are just as bad: ruthless, somber, and every bit as engaged in the gang’s senseless internecine struggles as their husbands. They are, if anything, even more devoid of inner life than their male counterparts, ciphers who exist only to fill particular roles in Nable’s narrative scheme. In the end, Outlaws comes down to a confrontation between Katrina and Hayley, but don’t take this woman-centric denouement as an indication that there’s some feminist subversiveness lurking beneath the film’s ultra-masculine exterior. McCallum’s film is just as brutal, nasty, and stupid as its characters.

Cast: Ryan Corr, Abbey Lee, Simone Kessell, Josh McConville, Matt Nable, Aaron Pedersen Director: Stephen McCallum Screenwriter: Matt Nable Distributor: A24 Running Time: 92 min Rating: R Year: 2017 Buy: Video

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