Sunday, September 8, 2013

Easy Rider

Easy Rider (1969)
Drama, 95 minutes
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Karen Black

The 1960s saw a lot of social change. The hippie movement, the increased exposure of recreational drugs, and the idea of freedom were all on the rise. Easy Rider captures that time and tries to depict a feeling. For the most part, it succeeds.

Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) star as two bikers who are riding across America on their choppers. We see them buying and selling drugs, and meeting up with other like-minded people. They are determined to leave behind the established system and make their own way in life. In a way, this is a road movie, but it's also much more.

The biggest source of conflict in the movie comes in the form of people who see Wyatt and Billy as dangerous non-conformists. They are arrested on dubious grounds and receive verbal abuse from some of the townspeople they meet along the way.

The story itself is actually pretty thin. This is a movie that is more about the lifestyle than the plot of its characters. The idea of communes and free love are not as shocking as when they first appeared, but imagine watching the ideas portrayed in this movie when it was released.

Jack Nicholson shows up as lawyer George Hanson, who helps out our rebellious heroes when they find themselves locked up in jail. Nicholson's role is brief, but memorable. Hopper and Fonda do a great job of portraying the free-spirited bikers.

Music plays a big part in the movie and helps to establish the 60s feel. Be ready for Hendrix, Steppenwolf, The Byrds, The Band, Roger McGuinn, and many other performers from the era. The other star is the American scenery. The mountain locations are particularly spectacular.

The movie is dated now, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless. I would recommend it for people born in the 50s or before, as well as younger people who are curious about what life might have been like at the end of the 60s.

The Blu-ray presentation from Criterion does a good job of restoring this important movie, and comes with commentaries and a choice of audio options.

Overall score 3.75/5

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