Riders of Justice
2021, NR, 116 min. Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 21, 2021
Remember that meme format about how “men will literally x instead of going to therapy”? That’s arguably the elevator pitch for Riders of Justice, a spiky, sensitive, lewdly humorous, and sporadically violent meditation on obsession, vengeance, and statistical probability.
Mads Mikkelsen makes the perfect avatar of vengeance: a Danish military man, back from the war with blood on his hands and murder on his mind after his wife is killed in what seems to be an accident. Gaunt, obsessive, withdrawn, shaved of head and glassy of eye, his new quest for revenge finally allows him to channel his killing ways into his home life – a squaring of circles that he’s never managed before. Mikkelsen last worked with longtime creative partner and Riders of Justice writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen on his deeply weird The Island of Doctor Moreau riff, Men & Chicken. While Riders of Justice doesn’t always share its ribald sense of humor, there is definitely a shared view of an absurdist, arbitrary world - which is where Otto Hoffman (Kaas, another Anders regular) comes in. He genuinely believes that all events can be mapped out, that coincidence is just a pretty story we tell ourselves. He’s the one who convinces Markus that his wife’s death, while not the intent of the crash, was no accident.
Hoffman brings in his fellow obsessive statistician, Lennart (Brygmann), and their engineering wiz friend, Emmenthaler (Bro here, Paul Walter Hauser in the inevitable U.S. remake), to work out who was responsible. Because someone has to be responsible, right? It can’t have been an arbitrary chain of events, Otto reasons, and Markus is eager to find a solution to his pain that he can punch – or, as the violence escalates, shoot – in the face.
Riders of Justice is a film of contradictions, but that’s its purpose. With gentle, sensitive humor and pathos dominating the story, it’s really about self-justification, as the scientists and the soldier form an unlikely team. Their … well, to describe it as “friendship” is definitely pushing the point, but the bond that the slow-rolling bloodbath creates between them emphasizes the unlikely part, especially as Markus desperately tries to establish a relationship with his teen daughter (Gadeberg). Yet Anders’ idiosyncrasies can, as always, remain a sticking point in the fascinating and unique tone. His humor sometimes wanders into Farrelly brothers territory, with some unexpected anal gags and depictions of disabilities that are both humanizing and an easy, cheap laugh (let’s not even get into the way the techs are classic nerd stereotypes). Yet that absurdity clashes with the blasts of brutality, creating an unexpected space for discussion about grief and powerless rage, like someone spliced a reel from Death Wish into My Dinner With Andre.