It’s a Mads Mikkelsen summer. OK, there hasn’t been an official announcement, but the arrival of his two most recent films within a couple of weeks of each other pretty much seals the deal. The ground was prepared for the release earlier this month of Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round when it scooped the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And now Mikklesen joins forces with another of his favourite directorial collaborators – Anders Thomas Jensen – for Riders Of Justice. And his view of the world is decidedly off kilter.
Hard-boiled soldier Markus (Mikkelsen) is called back home just after his tour of duty has been extended. His wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) has been killed in a train accident, their teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) has survived and needs her dad. Neither cope well with their grief, especially Markus who turns down all offers of support and is prone to sudden, outbursts of rage. The possibility that Emma’s death was caused by sabotage, not an accident, is raised by the geeky Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who gave up his seat to her just before tragedy struck. His theory – that it was the result of a bomb intended for a witness in an upcoming trial that would put the leader of criminal gang, Riders Of Justice, in jail – has been discounted by the police, but guilt and grief lead him to Markus’s doorstep. And give the soldier a means of channelling his own torment and anger.
It all starts with what seems like a series of coincidences – a stolen bicycle, catching a train, giving up a seat – but which all turn out to be more meaningful after the crash. As a survivor, Otto is haunted by guilt and grief, which gives him an instant connection with Markus, and he’s accompanied by two friends: work colleague and eccentric Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and temperamental computer wizard Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), making an unlikely quartet of avengers. Only the cold-eyed Markus seems well-equipped to teach the gang a lesson, yet he can’t do it without his tech-savvy accomplices – or, indeed, the fifth member of the team, trafficked Eastern European sex worker, Bodashka (Gustav Lindh), who witnesses the first killing in what turns into the inevitable spree.
In truth, all five of them are damaged in different ways and, against the odds, the group starts to gel, as does the film’s sometimes chaotic mix of violent drama and black comedy. As an ensemble piece, it holds together superbly – Mikkelsen, Lie Kaas and Bro were all in Jensen’s absurdist comedy Men And Chicken – balancing bleak humour with fiery vengeance and infusing it with heartfelt emotion, much of which comes from Gadeberg, who brings a depth and maturity to the teenage Mathilde. It’s a story full of twists and turns, yet Jensen’s narrative vision is crystal clear and, with a set of characters which is both distinctive and fully realised, there’s no chance of losing track.
The blackest of black comedies, a bloody revenge thriller and tale of never-ending ironies – Riders Of Justice works as all three, combined or otherwise. The surprise – rather than a sting – is that it’s unexpectedly touching, with the most heart rending moments coming from the least likely character. Whichever level you choose, it will both grip and prompt more than a few smiles, even if you’re never wholly comfortable in your seat.
Thriller, Comedy | Cert: 15 | Cinemas | Vertigo Releasing | 23 July 2021 | Dir. Anders Thomas Jensen | Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Gustav Lindh.
Watch our interview with director Anders Thomas Jensen here.