Riders of Justice, 2020.
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Morten Suurballe, Jesper Ole Feit Andersen, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Rikke Louise Andersson, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Henrik Noël Olesen, and Anne Birgitte Lind.
Markus, a deployed military man, has to go home to his teenage daughter, Mathilde, when his wife dies in a tragic train accident. It seems to be plain bad luck – but it turns out that it might have been a carefully orchestrated assassination, which his wife ended up being a random casualty of.
It all started with a stolen bike. Teenager Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) has plastered yellow sticky notes all over her bedroom wall in the formation of a flowchart, analyzing the consequence of every action that led to a tragic train explosion that left her unscathed but took the life of her mother. In a nutshell, the stolen bike delayed Mathilde from getting to school on time, which caused her mom to drive her, but this also made her present for a phone call between her supportive mother and her ice-cold soldier father Markus (Mads Mikkelsen, whooping an ungodly amount of ass here) where he revealed he’s probably not coming home until another three months, resulting in skipping school together and taking the aforementioned doomed train ride.
In other words, Mathilde takes to heart words from the funeral service, the cliché speech that everything happens for a reason. Riders of Justice doesn’t agree, introducing a pair of brainiacs named Otto and Lennart (Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Lars Brygmann, respectively) that believe every event correlates to another event. There is rhyme and reason, and it can all be figured out ahead of time with mathematical data. Naturally, they start investigating the train explosion, not necessarily unearthing any concrete, detailed evidence in the process. Still, enough to go on statistically that it was all staged to murder a high-ranking member of the titular Riders of Justice gang that was set to testify in court against its leader. They team up with a third misfit, morbidly obese computer whiz Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), using advanced facial recognition technology to match and locate the probable culprit.
This is where the eccentric trio brings their findings to an empty, one-track mind of vengeance, Markus. Refusing psychological help for both him and Mathilde (frustrating her) and struggling to nurture his daughter and feel something, he practically leaps at the opportunity to begin hunting the trash down one by one. However, Riders of Justice is not an aggressive machismo flick endorsing toxic masculinity and revenge. There’s no denying that Markus makes just about every wrong possible choice there is to make. In a move that has to earn him the worst father of the year award, when Mathilde inadvertently comes into contact with the group and assumes he finally let the psychologists come over, he runs with the lie.
Aside from working as a black comedy, this dynamic proves to be endlessly fascinating, considering all three of them are damaged and carrying their own baggage. One of them has been provided so many hours of therapy that he has enough knowledge to pull from to fake counsel Mathilde. They even rescue a sex-trafficked man along the way, making him a part of the group. The bullied and abused square off against some of the lowest scum imaginable, with co-writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen (reuniting cast members from his previous efforts and writing the script alongside Nikolaj Arcel), typically with the nerds feeling empowered through violence for the first time, which is one of the multiple razors edges the script walks so as not to revel in wish-fulfillment carnage.
In a brilliant move, Anders Thomas Jensen’s characters occasionally contradict the predictability hypothesis. Those you least expect to turn out to be proficient with firearms, random absurdities are embraced while always grounded into a believable story that respects the heavier drama, and the movie itself is impossible to read beyond its affecting themes of bonding and family. The walking contradiction even extends to the viewer experience, as every visceral kill Markus pulls off is both something to cheer yet condemn; what you really want to see is him emotionally vulnerable and tending to his daughter during the grieving process. Instead, he can’t help giving her sweet boyfriend Sirius (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) a black eye for not returning home by 11 pm.
Not all of the jokes land (Emmenthaler has verbal meltdowns over the clarity of his computer monitors), but the ones that don’t are pleasantly offset by scenes of this ragtag group genuinely caring for Mathilde while Markus acts out in a blind rage, sometimes against those on his side. We want the bodies to pile up to satiate that action craving and the exhilarating novelty of a bearded Mads Mikkelsen wrecking fools, but we also hope he comes to his senses before it’s too late. In execution, Riders of Justice is anti-vengeance and pro-connectivity. It’s an off-kilter deadly work of art with only love for the traumatized and weird.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com