Riders of Justice is an absolutely brilliant Danish film that cleverly crosses multiple genres. What begins as a revenge thriller turns into a wicked black comedy with a whole lot of heart. A superb ensemble cast, led by the always fantastic Mads Mikkelsen, will have you laughing out loud and cringing at the same time. Riders of Justice is terrific entertainment with a subversive edge. It’s rare to see a film that addresses so many different themes successfully.
Riders of Justice opens with a seemingly innocuous act of theft that spurns a tidal wave of events. In Denmark, teenaged Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and her mother (Anne Birgitte Lind) get unexpected news. Markus Hansen (Mads Mikkelsen) has decided to stay with his unit in Afghanistan for another three months. He cares for his family, but has put his career as a soldier first. His wife decides to have a “skip day” and take their daughter into the city for some fun.
Meanwhile, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a kind statistician with a crippled arm, Lennart (Lars Brygmann), a genius hacker with psychological issues, and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a severely obese and sensitive computer modeler, are all unceremoniously fired from their jobs. Otto trudges home on a crowded train. He generously gives up his seat to a nice woman and her daughter. When the train crashes in a horrific incident. Otto is overcome with guilt for surviving. But as he investigates the details of the tragedy, Otto concludes it was not an accident.
There are a lot of surprises in this film. The plot is multilayered with different characters constantly changing the direction of the narrative. The socially awkward oddballs and elite special forces soldier find themselves thrust into a unique situation. A clear mission of revenge is before them. But they have to work together to accomplish their goal. Learning to cope with grief, anger, and loneliness leads to a newfound sense of purpose. The characters face their deepest inadequacies while discovering what it means to belong. Their journey is eye-opening and unexpectedly profound.
Riders of Justice has dark comedic elements that range from subtle conversation, to bickering verbal jabs, and wild visual reveals. There are scenes in this film that are hysterical, but jaw-dropping disturbing. Each character has a backstory that shaped their unique personalities. These past events come to light at various points in the narrative. The topics are uncomfortable, but thoughtfully explored with humor. Laughter can be the best medicine when dealing with heartbreaking situations.
Director/screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen does a tremendous job on all fronts here. His script is well-written and executed with a deft touch. The ensemble cast plays off each other without overacting to the audacious material. Their chemistry is pivotal from the graphic action scenes to the quieter moments of understanding and friendship. Riders of Justice is a gem at the box office and one of my favorite films of the year so far. Riders of Justice has Danish dialogue with English subtitles. The film is principally produced by Zentropa Entertainments. It will be released theatrically in the United States on May 14th by Magnet Releasing and Magnolia Pictures, then available on demand a week later on May 21st.
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