Streaming Review

The Bike Thief review – compelling parable of the gig economy

This Brexit era riff on De Sica's neorealist classic is a great calling card for Alec Secăreanu but suffers from a slightly pedestrian script

Matt Chambers’ directorial debut The Bike Thief is Alec Secăreanu’s first chance to grapple with a screen leading role outside of his ravishing turn in God’s Own Country and, indeed, his home country of Romania. The title and premise, of course, recall De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, one of the pioneering statements of Italian neorealism, that film’s stolen peddle bike replaced with a moped, and post-World War II Rome swapped out for Brexit Britain.

It’s an interesting conceit. Poverty and destitution are not novel concepts, after all, and there’s something to be said about the temporal current The Bike Thief sets up here: the implicit statement being that our current economic conditions, be it in Italy or Britain, and not so different from those seventy-odd years ago (they are, perhaps, even worse).

That said, the focus is most certainly on the specific economic precarities of the present. Though we meet his family – first-generation Romanian migrants living on a run-down estate – Secăreanu’s character is anonymous, going only by the moniker “The Driver.” It’s no mistake that, when we first meet him, he’s hidden under a bike helmet: he is but another part in the Deliveroo supply chain, easily expendable, and just as easily replaced (as he mentions to a colleague, he seldom speaks English unless it’s to say “delivery” and “thank you”). His clandestinity, too, is evocative of Ryan Gosling’s similarly named protagonist in Drive; Nicolas Winding Refn’s work feels like a stylistic muse here, from the film’s latter-stage electronic soundtrack, to its neon-lit shots of London’s streets.

It’s all compelling enough, and there’s a lot to juggle, which Chambers handles well: the contemporary migrant experience, the precarious gig economy, contending with London as its own indomitable beast. It’s great, too, to see Secăreanu flex his acting muscles. The Driver is cascaded with pressure throughout The Bike Thief, unravelling quietly until the moment of eruption, like a volcano quaking with the shifting earth; he performs it all with great precision and his performance is absolutely the most compelling aspect of the film’s terse, eighty-minute runtime – the only lament being that you wish he had meatier material to work with. The Bike Thief is, nevertheless, a great, stylish calling card.

The Bike Thief is now streaming on various digital platforms.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

In the Heights review – intoxicating musical is the film of the summer

Jon M. Chu's screen adaptation of the acclaimed Lin-Manuel Miranda musical is a relentlessly joyous explosion of life and colour

One in a Thousand review – a well-crafted tale of young queer love

Writer-director Clarisa Navas helms an impressive and highly personal story of romance set in a poor neighbourhood in Argentina

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard review – a heinous and incomprehensible sequel

Ryan Reynolds's self-aware schtick wears dangerously thin in an ugly follow-up that seems to hate its own cast and audience

Fargo review – a yahsterpiece of the highest order

Is the Coens' chilly neo-noir about a simple kidnapping plot gone very wrong still as inspired as it was back in 1996? You betcha!

Features

Best Films to Watch in London and Stream This Week

With UK cinemas back in business, we highlight the best of what's new, from an intoxicating movie musical to Pixar's latest gem

Why I Changed My Mind About… The Royal Tenenbaums

Next in our series about films our writers have reconsidered, Emily Maskell on how grief changed her view of Wes Anderson's comedy

20 Unmissable Films Still to Come in 2021, Ranked by How Excited You Should Be

Beatles! Broadway! Beautiful boys! With seven months of the year still to go, Ella Kemp weighs up the biggest UK cinema releases...

Bitches of the Badlands: The Myth of the American West Through the Female Lens

With Nomadland and First Cow now in UK cinemas, Lilia Pavin-Franks explores how Chloé Zhao and Kelly Reichardt have rewritten the rules of Hollywood's most fabled genre