Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro
Run Time: 116 mins
Riders of Justice is an action comedy by Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen, who reunites with the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen after collaborating on The Green Butchers, Adam’s Apples and Men and Chicken. Mikkelsen plays Markus, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan with a temper, who is recalled home to his teenage daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife dies in a tragic train incident. Mathilde had also been on the train with her mother where a stranger, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) had given up his seat for her. Both Markus and Mathilde deal with the ensuing grief in their own ways, causing a strained relationship.
Markus is visited by mathematician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), haunted by the grief, with his friend Lenart (Lars Brygmann), who have tracked him at his home to inform him that the train incident wasn’t a coincidence but a planned murder of a trial witness against the Riders of Justice motorbike gang. The three team up together, along with Otto’s hacker friend Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) to track the gang down and for Markus to enact revenge. However, this is to an unexpected and interesting result.
Riders of Justice is an original yet odd experience, both in its construction and in its fusion of the action and comedy genres. This is a film that swings between its genres, as well as moments of heartfelt sadness. It doesn’t all quite gel together, nor does it have the emotional gut-punch that this type of narrative requires. But the film is to be admired for attempting to deconstruct the revenge thriller genre in an innovative fashion and there is some excellent development of its oddball characters.
Mads Mikkelsen is typically excellent as Markus and portrays the broken soldier as a brute force of anger but someone who is trying to improve himself and emotionally connect with his daughter. Mikkelsen is normally the highlight of every film he features in but this is a rare case where the supporting cast are more than able to match the esteemed Danish actor. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is equally affecting as Otto, also tortured by grief and sees himself as pathetic. Lars Brygmann is brilliant as the geeky, wise-talking Lenart and Nicolas Bro has many of the film’s best lines as the overweight yet hard-working Emmenthaler. All four actors share excellent chemistry together and when the stakes increase in the film’s third act, Jensen has succeeded in his task of making the audience care for them.
The script, which is also written by Jensen, is particularly admirable and full of wit. There are some philosophical exchanges between characters such as on the nature of chess and the themes of chance, coincidence and randomness. There are also some sequences that are blackly comic, such as the opening theft of a bicycle and a weapons training sequence, peppered in for good measure.
The components of Riders of Justice shouldn’t really work but it surprisingly mostly comes together and the result is an innovative, heartfelt and often comic subversion of the revenge thriller genre. It is reminiscent of a Coen Brothers film in its tone but with a Eurocentric spin. It’s not quite the revelatory experience some are suggesting the film to be and it acts as a disservice to go into this film with sky-high expectations. This is yet another thoughtful Mads Mikkelsen vehicle and combined with Another Round, currently playing in cinemas, this is turning into a stellar year for the actor.