Riders of Justice – Review

Riders of JusticeThe revenge movie. It tends to follow a pretty bog-standard formula. Something bad happens to a person and – having grieved or recovered (or just gotten angrier) – they embark on a trail of death and destruction. And, whilst it can be executed really well, there’s nothing really *new* about the genre.

That is, until Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice. It’s like the screwball comedy of revenge dramas, littered with humour so black it’s positively funereal. The jokes, the gags, the misunderstanding are all underpinned by real, smash ‘em up violence and it absolutely works. It’s a revenge plot like you’ve never seen before, with comedy and tragedy perfectly balancing each other out. It’s one of the most refreshing takes on a cinema trope that you’ll ever have the pleasure of watching.

The film centres around military man Markus (played to stoic perfection by Mads Mikkelsen), who must return home after his wife is killed in a train accident. He must reacquaint himself with his grieving teenage daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) whilst also adjusting to life at home. Suddenly, he finds statistics savants Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann) at his door – both of whom swear the explosion which killed his wife was anything but an accident …

Riders of Justice toys with the idea of serendipity and consequence. If Mathilde’s bike hadn’t been stolen, would she and her mother been on the train that day? If Otto hadn’t moved seats, would he have died? It does this in a relatively playful sense but allows the characters to use this pondering to explore their own grief.

Mikkelsen is truly excellent in the role of Markus. His performance here is like a culmination of all his previous work to date – he is both brooding, physical and menacing yet also incredibly vulnerable and raw. His dry delivery contrasts neatly with the hyperbolic ramblings and superb comic timing of the “sleuths” he now finds himself working with in order to avenge his wife.

Riders of Justice/ Retfærdighedens  RyttereThere are moments in this film – like the train accident itself – that will truly shock you. Others make you feel like you are watching a madcap crime caper starring Cary Grant. This is particularly evident with the introduction of the character of Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), the fussy, heavy breathing CCTV hacker with a flair for assembling military grades weapons.

The crew of self-professed “overly intelligent” misfits seeks to piece together what exactly happened on the train – their squabbling and rambling tempered neatly by Mikkelsen’s taciturn anti-hero. Despite the serious nature of the crime, there are wicked one liners – “If I’d wanted to assemble things, I’d have gone to IKEA.” – and scenes that border on the positively absurd.

And, despite the comic one-liners and idiosyncrasies of the “geeks”, there are moments of pretty shocking violence, too. Shoot-outs, broken bones, explosions … You name it, this film has it.

It’s incredibly well-paced and neatly punctuated by Jeppe Kaas score. We are completely drawn into the world of these characters, laid bare in all their dysfunctional glory. Men – and young women – who are struggling with their outsider status find commonality with each other.

Riders of Justice is a film that doesn’t really allow you to catch your breath, in a good way. If you’re not being drawn into the breakdown of familial relationships, you’re laughing at fake therapy sessions and (believe or not) the resurfacing of childhood traumas. It never quite settles into one particular lane, and is all the more engaging for doing so.

Riders of Justice is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival until March 1. Click here to get your tickets.

Mary Munoz
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