Anders Thomas Jensen‘s fifth and latest film working with fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen, and I believe the fourth collaboration with excellent co-stars Nicolas Bro and Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Riders of Justice might just be my favourite film of the year thus far as well as one I’m comfortable saying, in comparison to Another Round, is the more enjoyable time spent with Mads. Mads plays Markus, a shaved head and big bearded military man, who is called back to Denmark from active duty in Afghanistan when his wife is killed in a train “accident.” With the unorthodox and quite eccentric assist from three random strangers, Otto (Kaas), Lennert (Lars Brygmann), and Emmenthaler (Bro), Markus discovers that the accident might have actually been a failed assassination attempt that left his now dead wife among other commuters as collateral. Teaming up with these incredibly odd yet charming and experienced strangers—each with their own mental or physical ticks ranging from a malformed arm, a strict necessity for strong wifi and the best screen resolution, to severe childhood trauma in a barn—Markus concocts a plan of revenge against those he thinks killed his beloved wife and mother to his unstable daughter.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Lee, are you telling me Mads is going for a Liam Neeson Taken avenue with this action revenge plot?” The answer is both yes and no: Riders of Justice functions as quite the unique tonal blend of action-revenge, crime thriller, dark comedy, and a slice of wholesome holiday (Christmas) union. Shades of Fatih Akin‘s brilliant and emotionally resonant In the Fade, with a side of In Bruges, and just a slight garnish of insert your old man Liam Neeson pick. The tonal shifting in Riders of Justice is just so unique, at any given point bouncing from gallows humour, to familial drama, gritty street shoot-outs, home invasion, to even deep psychological trauma. Its seamless flow ensures that at no point does the story ever get dull, while the entire cast is brilliantly developed and lived-in with the completely unfelt runtime.
Despite the bloody and hate-fueled subject matter and a truly menacing looking Mads, the film bolsters quite the strangely empathetic familial dynamic amongst its drastically different protagonist crew members. For example, we have an individual who is so scarred that none of the myriad psychologists he’s been to were able to help, and yet he uses all the knowledge obtained from them to help Markus and his daughter. Alongside him, there is a Ukrainian sex slave named Bodashka (Gustav Lindh) who despite his awful upbringing and life, manages to be the heart and soul and even maternal figure to this newly formed broken family. Mads is one of my favourite actors, and is well known for often being the best part of anything he’s involved in, but his supporting cast here—some of whom seem to get equal time—really all have equal moments to shine. Their comedy and straightforward awkwardness contrasts perfectly to Mads’s incredibly serious, ice-cold killer face and don’t-mess-with-me attitude. Riders of Justice just succeeds in spades with its surprisingly serendipitous portrayal of broken individuals from different walks of life uniting against a common goal to help one another out, no matter the cost.
You’re probably wondering why this is sounding so upstanding and cheery given the cover and the fact that it’s about revenge for a murdered spouse. It’s not gory per se, but it certainly includes plenty of action scenes, not limited to a fun gun training montage and a hint of what Mads would look like in a John Wick film. Jensen really managed to subtly weave some brutal psychological trauma underneath the jokes, hugs, punches, and shots. There were some moments where you went from laughing out loud to pausing in acknowledgment of the big “this just got real” backstory bomb being dropped. The film also intelligently subverts what many of you including myself might have thought the narrative was forming. It pulls off quite a deconstruction of its primary genre I honestly didn’t see coming, but that I’d often think of when watching many a revenge film. Obviously a massive spoiler if discussed, so I’ll leave it at a brief mention of how some viewers may not necessarily fall in line with its choice and resolution. I was onboard with its choice, and I found it to be a fresh take that perfectly wrapped up the film’s established thematic resonance.
I wholeheartedly recommend everyone give Riders of Justice a watch as soon as it becomes available to you. It’s such a unique tonal ride that maturely and deftly handles grief, trauma, abuse, rape, maturity, familial distress, loss, and an overall light on mental health and reaching out for help. I can guarantee that you will not know what direction this quirky yet dark film is headed towards, and like me you might be thinking it’ll just be a comedy for the first act. On the other side, if you just want to see Mads Mikkelsen being a complete badass, you can simply enjoy that as well. A top five Mads Mikkelsen performance and film for me, and a rare film that makes you want to fully delve into the filmmaker’s filmography. Luckily for us, I don’t see how it can go wrong, as aforementioned, Anders Thomas Jensen’s filmography happens to be rife with Mads.
Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. To my editor’s chagrin, I typically like to go over my word count in discussing films. Most if not all my reviews are originally written within an hour of finishing the film, so that I can deliver an unfiltered, raw, genuine, in the moment, thought process to you. My taste is eclectic (both in film and music), but I have a strong preference for 80s Cult/Sleaze films, Sci-fi, War, Chambara, Fantasy, and Psychological Thrillers. Thanks for giving us a read and I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit! Long live physical media; long live VHS. Remember: watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.