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As bike touring booms, we’ve seen a trickle of documentaries by cyclists filming their adventures on helmet cameras. This one, from Australian director Cameron Ford, is slicker than most. In 2015, Ford and four friends cycled 2,600 miles in 30 days across the US in the footsteps of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, following the route of dustbowl migrants searching for a better life.
The five men travelled on a budget of $420, the equivalent of the $18 an average depression-era family had to get them to California. This creates the slightly queasy sight of affluent guys in expensive Patagonia T-shirts slumming it and relying on the kindness of strangers – some of whom are themselves clearly only just scraping by on low incomes.
Ford and his buddies are a good-natured bunch, endearingly honest and unmacho about their limited cycling experience; one admits he’s never cycled more than 20km. Their plan is to busk for their supper. But, as they pedal through the Bible belt it’s kindness and hospitality all the way: guys in cowboy hats and belt buckles offering a hot meal or a bed or barn for the night to this group of tattooed man-bunned hipsters.
In the strongest scenes their hosts read extracts from The Grapes of Wrath, still so contemporary, still burning with injustice; and we see some of the extraordinary photographs of America in poverty by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. But the film’s journalistic ambition to examine inequality today – an update of Steinbeck for the 21st century – doesn’t come off. Ford and his mates seem like chill guys; so there’s not much white-hot wrath here. And despite the superior production values, sometimes The Bikes of Wrath feels a bit like watching a home video by someone you’ve never met on their holiday of a lifetime.
• The Bikes of Wrath is released in the UK on 13 December.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Bikes of Wrath review – cyclists take the dustbowl migrants’ road | Documentary films