When a professional tough man somewhere far away has a phone call with his family safely back home, the next steps are logical. In Anders Thomas Jensen’s revenge thriller, the trained killer is Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), a soldier stationed abroad who returns to Denmark after his wife is killed in a train explosion, leaving a traumatised daughter and several unanswered questions. He is not the only one looking for answers, as recently fired data analyst Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is convinced giving up his seat is all that saved him on the train – and that the man who threw away the uneaten 14 euro Joe and the Juice combo meal must be the culprit, because why else would a person do that in this economy?
This blend of bizarre yet strangely sensical investigation elevates RIDERS OF JUSTICE above the average violence-filled revenge quest. The least exciting part is the eventual result; the ridiculous interactions, unlikely friendships, and unexpectedly poignant revelations during the investigation prove far more engaging. The team of oddballs give the film its heart: Otto and Markus are joined by Otto’s former colleague Lennart (Lars Brygmann), a man at ease in many skins, and his profanity-happy friends Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), the techie brains of the group. There is a lot of humour in watching them learn to work within their dysfunctional team dynamic and shock for the unprepared vigilantes. Solving this mystery calls on all their strengths, but also satisfyingly on their weaknesses. These foibles build genuine fondness for the mismatched crime-fighters and make room for surprisingly wholesome moments between plans to drain bank accounts and take shoot-out witnesses hostage.
“…foibles build genuine fondness for the mismatched crime-fighters and make room for surprisingly wholesome moments between plans to drain bank accounts and take shoot-out witnesses hostage.”
While Markus fits squarely in this ensemble, Mikkelsen’s international star power is well used to designate him both the de facto leader and the wild card among the group. He is happy to take on the “very illegal part” of the plan, yet it is clear his rage masks how vulnerable bereavement has left him and his discomfort with showing weakness in his harrowing line of work. Markus’ personal loss further centralises his emotional journey, and his relationship with daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg, who gets her own arc of self-acceptance and self-determination in the subplot).
“…the violence inflicted by co-conspirators […] registers somewhere between hilarity and pathos. There is no room for superheroes here – human folly is far more interesting.”
Grief is filmed tastefully, yet unflinchingly. One standout sequence before the action-packed climax allows two unusually matched characters a moment to reflect on how random, nonsensical, and senseless their now-inseparable journeys have been to this point. Likewise, the violence inflicted by co-conspirators on each other – be the emotional or literal socks to the jaw – registers somewhere between hilarity and pathos. There is no room for superheroes here – human folly is far more interesting.
RIDERS OF JUSTICE is underpinned by the innate absurdity of existence and love for the fools navigating this abyss. The film’s weakest side is the revelation of the terror cell at work behind the scenes, possibly because it plays as the most predictable beat, but it is hard to be mad at a film this good-hearted.