Sometimes it’s hard to understand why and how things in life happen, and we have a hard time relinquishing the need to always know the why. This is especially true with tragic situations — what is just a series of unrelated coincidences can lead to synchronicity (circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection — it’s our human brain trying to cope) and meaning for the person trying to come to grips with has happened. Can one seemingly harmless even set off a chain of deadly, tragic events (i.e., the theft of a bicycle)? This is what is at the heart of Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest dark revenge comedy, Riders of Justice.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Markus, a deployed military man who must return home suddenly to take care of his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife dies in a train “accident.” Suffering from PTSD and a strained relationship with his daughter, Markus is taken aback one day when a recently fired, down-on-his-luck mathematics geek, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass), shows up on his doorstep saying he has proof that his wife’s death was not an accident because the train collision was no coincidence — it was actually the work of a notorious gang, the Riders of Justice. After some reluctance, Markus accepts the help of Otto and his band of misfits (Lennart and Emmenthaler) to help him track down the gang’s leaders and exact their revenge. Along the way, the socially awkward quartet embarks on a deadly journey to avenge Markus’s wife and confront the demons in their past.
Although the subject matter is super dark, Jensen and his co-writer Nikolaj Arcel do a great job of adding humor with the three socially awkward misfits who give off an almost Three Stooges type vibe opposite Mikkelsen’s more stoic, no no-nonsense Markus. The writing and dialogue make for an interesting watch with its mix of scientific/mathematical theory, psychology, revenge, and family drama — with a few laughs thrown in for good measure.
But this story would just be one-dimensional and flat on the page without the superb talent of all of the actors involved. Nikolaj Lie Kass, who plays Otto, the maimed, singularly focused mathematician dealing with his own dark past and family issue, is great as the “straight-man” amongst the stooges. This is the fifth feature collaboration between director Anders Thoams Jensen and actors Mikkelsen and Kaas — maybe that’s one reason this works so well. Lars Brygmann plays Lennart and does so with such aplomb — he’s the affable but socially awkward “hacker” who is also dealing with his own past demons. And then there is Nicolas Bro’s Emmenthaler, who so effortlessly transitions from maniacal, thirsting for revenge for past bullying and emotional and soft-hearted. The chemistry between those three is impeccable.
Add Mikkelsen to any mix, and you’ve got a winner — he excels as the troubled, almost anti-hero who’s doing the best he knows how. He is a man of few words, but so much is conveyed with his facial expressions and body language. The rest of the ensemble cast, Gadeberg, Gustav Lindh (Queen of Hearts), Roland Møller (Land of Mine, Skyscraper), and Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt (Another Round, The Rain) are just the cherry on top — they envelop their uniquely individual characters with their own quirks and eccentricities that really makes all of the characters relatable.
In the end, Riders of Justice is the touching story of a father pushed to the edge but overcomes his emotional blocks holding him back from a real relationship with his daughter with the help of some new, unexpected friends. It is a story of how troubled souls often find each other and how we all just crave community and connection from people who understand and get us and let us be our imperfect selves — this is the true meaning of family. It is okay to need help; it is not a sign of weakness. It shows the importance of dealing with mental health issues and dealing with grief in constructive ways. It is the story of hurt people coming together to heal each other. This is a heavy film with a little comic relief and WTF moments, making for a crazy ride with just the right amount of heart and bloody action.