AMSTERDAM: Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Riders of Justice” initially presents as a straightforward vigilante revenge thriller. Mads Mikkelsen stars as military veteran Markus, whose PTSD is apparently clear to everyone but himself and his commanding officers, who ask him to extend his overseas tour by a further three months.
Soon after, his wife is killed in a train crash. Their teenage daughter Mathilde was present, but survives, as does statistics genius Otto, who had given up his seat for Markus’ wife moments before the crash. With the help of two ‘eccentric’ fellow geeks — abuse-survivor Lennart and the obese, spectacularly foul-mouthed Emmenthaler — Otto figures out that the train wreck was, in fact, no accident, but a scheme planned by the titular motorcycle gang (and organized crime outfit) to get rid of a key witness in the upcoming trial of their club president, Kurt Olesen.
Otto’s “facts” seem to stack up. But they were obtained illegally and cannot be taken to the police. So the three oddballs head to Markus’ house, where they explain that they believe his wife was an innocent victim of a carefully planned assassination. Markus vows to take revenge, and they agree to help him.
So far, so formulaic. But this is where “Riders of Justice” departs from its seemingly straightforward path, evolving instead into something original and unexpected — a musing on randomness and coincidence, an examination of camaraderie, and an exploration of love and grief and trauma. All with a healthy dose of very black humor thrown in.
Mikkelsen is excellent as the ultra-Alpha male Markus — his stoicism covering a storm of violence waiting to erupt as he tries in vain to quash his anger and grief at his wife’s death and his frustration at his inability to connect with Mathilde. But the supporting cast all play their part too. Each of the main characters is damaged in their own way — whether physically, emotionally or both — and while Markus is apparently the strongest (in all senses) of them, it becomes clear that the others have skills and strengths that he simply doesn’t possess, but that he will desperately need if he is to survive intact.
Jensen has crafted a hugely enjoyable, hugely original piece of work that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Be warned, though, this is definitely not a family-friendly movie.