Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, offensive language and sexual material
Mads Mikkelsen as Markus
Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Otto
Andrea Heick Gadeberg as Mathilde
Lars Brygmann as Lennart
Nicolas Bro as Emmenthaler
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) returns home to care for his daughter when his wife dies in a tragic train accident. However, when a survivor of the wreck surfaces and claims foul play, Markus suspects his wife was murdered and embarks on a mission to find those responsible.
Riders of Justice was the second of the three NZIFF movies I got tickets to watch in cinemas. I didn’t really know much about it going in, just that it was a Danish thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen, and I heard that the film was really good. Riders of Justice was one of the most surprising movies I’ve seen from 2021, entertaining and funny while also being poignant and sensitive.
Looking at the premise for Riders of Justice, it seems like a standard revenge movie starring Mads Mikkelsen. The posters certainly give off that vibe, only just missing the tagline “Mads is Mad”. Yes, Mads Mikkelsen plays a soldier who is out for revenge and shoots and kills a lot of people. However, you eventually realise that the film is much more than just that. There were two surprises I found when watching the movie. First of all is the amount of humour here, Riders of Justice is a dark comedy and it’s hilarious and entertaining to watch. The second surprise is that Riders of Justice is also heartfelt and sad. The surprisingly sensitive script addresses grief, trauma and loss with an emotional honesty and depth I was not expecting. There’s even a concept presented front and centre about coincidences, small chances and what ifs, particularly with why bad things and tragedies happen. Although it sets itself up as a revenge movie, it is really an anti-revenge movie, with the path of vengeance being motivated by feelings of guilt and regret. The script is smartly written, with great dialogue and juggling multiple different tones and genres with ease. While it sounds like a mess, it actually works quite well. In terms of flaws, I think there are some character arcs which don’t get fully resolved by the end in retrospect. Sometimes the pacing could be inconsistent, but I was entertained and invested from beginning to end.
The cast are one of the main reasons the film works as well as it does. The most recognisable actor in this cast is Mads Mikkelsen as Markus, the protagonist. He does play the typical anti-hero who seeks justice after a tragedy (specifically his wife dying), but there’s layers and depth to this complex character which here which we don’t see in most films that follow this archetype. There is believable chemistry between Mikkelsen and his daughter played by Andrea Heick Gadeberg, effectively conveying the strained relationship they have, especially when it comes to responding to the tragedy affecting them both. This is one of Mikkelsen’s best performances, and that’s saying a lot. Despite Mads Mikkelsen playing the main character however, the supporting cast really make the movie. It is truly an ensemble piece. The other three men that Markus teams up with are played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann and Nicolas Bro, and they are also great. All these characters here are fleshed out and feels important in the group, with each person dealing with something different that comes to light, but all sharing a common tragedy that brought them together. Their back and forth and awkward chemistry is one of the best parts of the movie and was really enjoyable to watch. While much of their quirks are on full display, it actually feels like each scene focusing on their traits have a purpose that goes beyond just delivering a funny joke.
I haven’t seen Anders Thomas Jensen’s other films but his direction here is really good. While I would not really call this an action movie, there are some action scenes (mainly involving Mads Mikkelsen) which are very well filmed and brutal as you would expect them to be.
Riders of Justice was one of the most unexpected films I’ve seen this year. A smartly written revenge thriller which balances dark comedy and entertainment with its heartfelt and sensitive moments, which is helped by an ensemble of great performances led by Mads Mikkelsen. I highly recommend checking it out when you get a chance, very likely one of my favourite films of the year.