By: Anthony Francis
Anders Thomas Jensen’s new Thriller, “Riders of Justice”, starts with a short character setup and delivers one helluva opening jolt that will prepare us for the film to come, as we come to learn that vengeance and sorrow walk hand in hand.
Mads Mikkelsen is Markus, a husband and father who is disconnected from his wife and daughter, as his job with his military unit keeps him on near-constant deployment.
A horrific accident on a train kills Markus’ wife and traumatizes his teenage daughter Mathilde (a solid Andrea Heike Hadeberg). But there is a mystery to be solved. The accident may not have been an accident after all.
Data analysts Otto and Lennart (Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Lars Brygmann, respectively) come to Markus’ house to explain that they have discovered evidence that leads back to a biker gang called the Riders of Justice.
Otto carries around a weight of regret, as he is the one who gave up his seat to Markus’ wife on the train. If it were not for that, she would be alive, and Otto would be dead. Kaas does a fascinating job of wearing an unbearable emotional conflict. It pains Otto that his act of kindness all but destroyed a family. Then again, he is alive and wants to be thankful for this. Otto is a well-crafted character and the most interesting in the film.
The mystery unspools and they are aided by a kooky companion Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), himself an interesting character as he brings a focus to the makeshift gang’s search for the truth. As it all becomes more and more clear, the vengeance gets bloody.
When the action comes, it explodes hard and fast, making the scenes of violence jarring and intensely visceral. These moments are sometimes unexpected and snap the audience to attention like machine-gun fire.
Markus is a soldier to his core and has been trained in many forms of combat. He knows how to kill quickly and efficiently. As we learn with each violent confrontation, Markus is extremely good at his job.
Mikkelsen is perfect in the role. Already a man filled with regret that he wasn’t home enough for his family, the actor wears it all on his face. In the scenes where he must kill, Mikkelsen lets us see the frustration that crushes him to be slaying endless lives for revenge. Markus is home. Far away from the death and killing he is trained for. Life at home should never be like this.Blood should not be spilled in the town where he lives. His family should be together. His wife should be alive.
Markus is not Rambo, although he is an equally efficient killing machine. This is far from that kind of film. Before this tragedy, the character only killed because it was his job. Now he kills in the name of retribution and justice. But is it, in fact, justice? Markus’s deceptively blank stare after killing makes us (and him) think otherwise and question the meaning of it all.
What sets this film apart from many of its ilk is its commitment to creating real characters and infusing the film with wit, dark comedy, and humanity.
Jensen’s screenplay takes care to make every main character complete and relatable. By film’s end, we have grown to know and like every one of them and root for all of them to have a better life and move past these tragic events. The screenplay and the audience wants them to leave far behind the violence that has touched them.
A character study to be sure, but make no mistake, there is some hardcore action, and it is done extremely well.
A highlight of the film is a beautifully choreographed shootout on an empty street at night where Markus takes control and lays waste to the bad guys, filling the once barren street with blood, bullets, and bodies. Cinematographer Kasper Tuxen bathes the streets in the not-so-ample streetlight while the explosions from gun barrels light the shadowed streets below.
It is a fantastic sequence where the director holds tight on Mikkelsen, using few cutaways to create a supremely thrilling gun battle that builds slow and explodes like a canon, never stopping until the last villain has fallen. Each moment of action is handled with the same expert precision.
“Riders of Justice” is great film. This is an interesting, moody, well-acted, and thrillingly violent film that entertains on levels of suspense, drama, and action but also manages to find a souland the occasional bit of quirk and humor.
This is not giving anything away, as I am telling you nothing regarding any character’s fate, but to have a bloody and tragic revenge film end with some Holiday cheer is an ironic masterstroke. You shall see.
Five months into 2021, Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Riders of Justice” is one of the year’s best films.