Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, Markus goes home to his teenage daughter, Mathilde, when his wife dies in a tragic train accident. It seems like an accident until a mathematics geek, who was also a fellow passenger on the train, and his two colleagues show up. Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller and Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt.
If you were to judge this story solely on its basic elements, a father who loses a family member, decides to take revenge and has a classic, cold, tough, emotionally walled off personality, then yes it would seem as though it’s following a tired path. However, the devil’s in the details with this film, it brings a more modern edge to the story, it creates an odd, messed up little family, who all need help and each have their individual issues. It may not have the time to do a deep dive into the psychological problems of every single character but it takes enough time to divulge them to create a unique crew of sweet people. It also succeeds in that the characters seem to be its focus, the revenge and tracking down of various gang members feels secondary, the two can co-exist without one being drowned by the other. It traverses the idea of what makes a good father, it’s not just having the right intentions as Markus (Mikkelsen) does, it’s about him learning to listen to what his daughter needs and to put her first, rather than just a good old-fashioned father knows best.
There’s an atmosphere and tone here that’s a style of cinema which can somehow only be captured in Nordic film, it’s dark yet very awkwardly real, it has a blunt humour to it and it’s gripping as well as inherently down to earth. That style becomes more clear as time goes on, the opening scenes are a slight jumble, they make sense down the line but the jury’s still out on whether it was worth it or it could have simply sharpened up instead. Similarly at first it feels almost as though the audience is being held at arm’s length, it’s somewhat cold much like Markus but it subtly pulls you in further as time goes on until it hits very genuine, moving notes as it reaches the end of its story. The score however feels misused, it’s missing in moments and too heavy handed in others, it purely doesn’t make enough of an impression or impact on the film to have been necessary.
You know you’re always going to get a great performance out of Mads Mikkelsen, he’s a brilliant actor. Here he has a combination of reining in his emotions, being very cold but with outbursts of anger or violence, which he achieves flawlessly. It’s a performance that’s more interesting in its more vulnerable moments as that’s when Mikkelsen really shines. Although he does take a slight majority of the focus, this is still an ensemble film, particularly with his ragtag team of Otto (Kaas), Lennart (Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Bro). They’re a bunch of very intelligent, slightly socially challenged and somewhat broken men but they’re also incredibly fascinating to watch, funny, sad, relatable and kind. You’ve also got Gadeberg as Markus’s daughter Mathilde, she doesn’t get a chance to steal the limelight but she’s extremely sympathetic and has a great chemistry with Mikkelsen. Lindh and Lindhardt are both also superb additions, they each get moments to bring strong personalities to their characters and nicely round out this unusual family.
Riders of Justice takes what could have been a very tired and familiar story and injects it with a modern feel and fascinating, unique characters. Each actor presents a vulnerability, sensitivity and brokenness to their characters, it’s a great representation of how everyone has their own problems and needs help sometimes. It can feel slightly cold or unusual at times but it slowly reveals its strange, kind and genuine charm.