It all starts with a stolen bicycle. Something taken from someone that usually might not have much merit to it, yet here in ‘RIDERS OF JUSTICE’, it has everything to do with what happens next in director Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest foray into a wonderful film that gives us drama, dark comedy, action and explores just how far someone can go to justify their anger and avoid facing their grief.
Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), is a soldier who is called back home due to his family’s being in a bizarre train accident. His wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) tragically dies in it, but their teen daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), survives. While grieving, she seeks answers for what happened and why. She’s coping by questioning the universe and religion as well, but Markus tells her those are nothing but dead ends. There is nothing good that will come from trying to make sense of it. It was all just a tragic accident and coincidence — end of story. But then where would be the storyline in all this – because one crazy tale is about to be told.
Markus is a soldier, and he sees himself as a man’s man so to speak, so he does what most men do to process loss: he tries to drink and smoke his pain away. He knows no other way to process his grief. That is until one day a mathematics/statistician named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and his colleague Lennart (Lars Brygmann), show up to tell him the accident wasn’t a coincidence. Now both of these characters have just lost their job, and because of this, they have time, time to research the statistics of this train accident. And in fact, all ‘stats’ show it was a planned murder by a local gang called Riders of Justice, and they can prove it. And so it begins – Operation ‘Make the Riders pay’ for what they have perceived to have done, is underway.
The team Otto and Markus assemble almost seem like a nerdy group of Avengers, as it’s essentially both of them, along with Lennart – who must be an absolute burden to psychiatrists round the world, and yet he fashions himself one as well, and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a extremely sensitive I.T. genius. They look like they are highly intelligent and they are, but they are also physically and emotionally damaged men as well. Markus on the other hand, just doesn’t care. He’s fueled by the notion they have planted him with and will stop at nothing for revenge, he’s like a human torpedo determined to blow everything up — and by everything, I mean the guys he believes are involved in this plot. Markus is the muscle, the executioner, and the rest of the team is the brains behind the operation.
Jensen’s not interested here in making a plain, basic revenge movie. No, he wants to explore what’s beneath these men’s grief, shame, and humiliation. He pits Markus’ masculinity and the others vulnerability, using it against each other to see what happens as this group has only one common goal — destroy the gang — but seemingly not much else. Markus only knows how to solve a problem if it involves violence and guns, as ‘feelings’ and ‘words’ are useless to him. He only knows and believes that there is only one way to handle things, with action i.e., ‘actions speak louder than words’, a prevalent use of the motto for this film. He can’t find a way to connect with his daughter, who’s desperately in need of parental support and guidance, as she wants him to see a therapist. Instead he mocks the quasi-diagnosis his daughter and her boyfriend Sirius (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) make, even though he knows he will have to confront his feelings at some point. Markus refuses it because he realizes he couldn’t be in control of the situation, which is the only thing he has on the battlefield — and, ultimately, in life.
The rest of the characters are vastly different from Markus, but they all have their suppressed emotions to face as well and it’s kind of fascinating to see how the film lays them out in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes it almost seems far-fetched how Jensen makes the men connect, but he is once again, so good at creating unlikely bonds between the men, that it works out ridiculously well as the balance between very dark comedy, drama and action is perfectly handled. But makes no bones about it, there is a ton of shooting, killing, and bone-breaking in Riders of Justice, but ultimately, all that is a distraction. To be honest, the experience here is something like none other and is absolutely superb. It is comedy, it is war, it is death, sadness and violence – all wrapped up in one, but one in which in a portion of your mind, you are rooting for it in the weirdest way possible, and then you get slammed with a twist that in the darkest recesses of your mind, you never saw coming. Plus, the whole mathematical statistics of how they explain things is so very real, it makes you really take a moment to stop and think as well.
Honestly, Mikkelson is like a well balanced glass of wine here. One thing that is made clear after watching – not only does Mikkelson have the uncanny ability to be able to pick these projects, as well as have co-stars that just might be the most unlikely group to put together, yet are perfectly adept at enhancing his story and his performance every time. It also makes me so happy he continues to make quality films like this one, in his own language, as a translation to English, would just not be workable with a film like this one.
And it might also just be the best film of the year so far.
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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ Ginsberg/Libby PR
“RIDERS OF JUSTICE” IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS IN LA/NYC ON FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021 // EVERYWHERE MAY 21, 2021