It’s not often you finish a film and find yourself equally satisfied, contemplative, and overawed by the peculiar nature of a film, and one that’s also very funny and quite violent, but Anders Thomas Jensen? You hit every spot, and more, when it comes to the Danish action-comedy-drama-thriller Riders of Justice [Retfærdighedens Ryttere], that’s out now in UK cinemas.
Whilst you bear with me as I gather my thoughts, you need to see this. I wonder if it’s how I felt when I first saw In Bruges all those years ago, definitely entertained but also blown away by the grounded, genre-shifts that keeps you engaged by offering up a wild adventure that you’re not sure you should be part of, but you absolutely want to be.
The basic setup, which doesn’t really give you the ‘mood’ throughout but literally gives you the premise, is that soldier Markus (exceptionally portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen), must return home to look after his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife dies in a freak train accident. While his wife and daughter were close, he doesn’t really understand his offspring as much as she did, and this mainly comes down to his time away from home in the military. When he returns for the funeral, their relationship isn’t great and this is because Markus is struggling to deal with the literal grief of the situation, and Mathilde is also after the death of her mother.
From this initial start, you assume that Riders of Justice is a deep dive into grief, all grainy and contemplative, and while it does have those elements within the story, it’s very unique in its approach by throwing in a lot of dark comedy, a ragtag team of misfits, ultra-dangerous city gangs, the purpose of chess, computer technology and data, psychology discussions and the very meaning of consequence and how it’s impossible to control anything, even when you want to. And this is just some of the trips we go on, let alone Markus’ sharp-shooting skills and hilariously entertaining arguments that surround him, brought to life by the people who enter the lives of Markus and Mathilde, and all the while? Mikkelsen plays it straight as an arrow, dealing with grief and trying to find revenge for what he thinks wasn’t an accident.
Why doesn’t he think it was an accident? Because a survivor of the train wreck, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) works as an analyst finding patterns in data, and suspects the crash was purposefully setup to kill off an important witness in a high-profile court case against a gang, and so hunts down Markus and tells him. After discovering intriguing evidence, which they correlate with data and hacking of Police systems, they believe his wife was murdered, and they all embark on a vengeful mission to track down and take those responsible out.
The thing is, many things here could seem stupid and impossible, but the script never really allows us to find it too ridiculous because we see their logic and theories in action, and the proof they’ve gathered to go with it. Riders of Justice is all about letting go, jumping in the car and hanging out in the Barn (you’ll see), and going with where it takes you. Sure, there’s a slight element of suspending disbelief with a few shootouts that occur, especially in the sense of ‘is there any local Police?!’ but I didn’t really care, I absolutely loved the journey.
As well as the three actors mentioned – Mikkelsen, Gadeberg and Kaas – being outstanding, there’s a vital ensemble here that make everything work and tick over from start to finish, so there has to be equal mentions for Nicolas Bro as Emmenthaler, Lars Brygmann as Lennart, Gustav Lindh as Bodashka, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt as Sirius, and even Roland Møller as Kurt. They all have stand-out moments, like you’d want, including genuine laugh-out-loud situations and discussions that defy normality but are always welcome – including a lot of amusing swearing from Bro’s Emmenthaler.
Riders of Justice is packed with surprises, on one hand it’s a gritty, revenge thriller in the veins of Neeson’s Taken, and then on the flipside it’s outrageously and an unexpectedly dark, entertaining comedy drama. Anders Thomas Jensen, you’re a curious one but I also think you’re magnificent as well. This is full of twists and turns, it’s investigative, shocking, a meditative lament on grief, funny and deeply poignant, you’re about to go everywhere but just enjoy the escape and revel in the uniqueness.