By Emily Murray
Reading the premise for the latest film from Danish writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen, you would be forgiven for expecting a standard revenge thriller. Military veteran Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) sets out to seek vengeance on a biker gang, the Riders Of Justice, who he believes played a role in the death of his wife.
Whilst that simple plot description does sound similar to countless others within the revenge genre, Riders Of Justice sets itself out with a unique tone and fascinating cast of characters. Notably the story is also so much more than one of revenge as it analyses the themes of fate and coincidence, making us ask ourselves ‘what do we believe in?’
Markus only sets out on his journey when data analyst Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) comes knocking on his door with the suggestion that the train crash which killed his wife wasn’t an accident. Otto instead states that sinister forces were at work and a conspiracy was in play, one which immediately sweeps up Markus.
Crucially though from the outset the film makes us question the motivations of the characters, and so we continually doubt the ideas they present. Since Otto was on the train himself and gave Markus’ wife his seat, is his survivor’s guilt causing him to search for a reason behind what happened? Is he simply looking for a way to redeem himself to Markus?
Similar questions can be asked of Markus too who all too willingly goes along with the theory. It’s clear he’s a violent man, so is he looking for an excuse to express his emotions with aggression? All of this keeps you on your toes, as does the movie’s strange blend of genres with it being an inspired cocktail of revenge thriller, offbeat comedy and family drama, rapidly switching tone throughout.
It shouldn’t work but Jensen balances it all perfectly and so it does beautifully!
This is also because the oddball cast of characters are all rather unpredictable, meaning you never know which direction Riders Of Justice is going in next. Mikkelsen is fantastic leading the pack as the stoic Markus whose deep-seated trauma can cause him to unexpectedly lash out at any moment.
He’s quite the contrast to Kaas’ Otto who is withdrawn in a different way thanks to the crippling guilt that has overcome him, quietly attempting to process his pain. Whilst Markus and Otto are mostly unexpressive, the same can’t be said for the rest of the ensemble whose unruly characteristics not only adds a level of bizarreness to the movie, but will also cause uproarious laughter.
Lars Brygmann (Lennart) and Nicolas Bro (Emmenthaler) fully embrace the eccentricities of their characters and because they are having fun with it, we as an audience do too. Rounding out the cast is Andrea Heick Gadeberg as Markus’ daughter Mathilde whose sensitivity helps ground the outlandish events.
However, whilst writer/director Jensen has nailed the tone of this screwball revenge drama his exploration of trauma doesn’t go deep enough and so it feels much like a subplot which landed mostly on the cutting room floor.
Whilst Riders Of Justice does well to explore the pain Markus and Mathilde are going through following the train crash, they aren’t the only characters dealing with trauma. The film takes the time to note that the rest of the ensemble have also been affected by a traumatic event from their pasts, but it fails to properly discuss this and so it feels like a distraction. Which is a shame really given how incredibly written the rest of the film is, and how well Jensen handled the other themes.
Despite this Riders Of Justice is, forgive the pun, a ride worth taking and one which will definitely take you by surprise too.
Riders of Justice plays as part of Glasgow Film Festival
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