Mads Mikkelsen is one of the many elements that make Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice one of the year’s best films so far. He’s brilliant in a movie that dares to dig below the surface of a revenge-movie plot—and provide characters with substantial depth.
The movie is not just a revenge thriller; it’s also a touching family drama/tragedy and, most surprisingly, a buddy comedy. Now, when I say “buddy comedy,” I am talking about a pitch-dark buddy comedy in which some of the buddies wind up unconscious on the side of the road after another buddy viciously punches them in the face. OK, so maybe calling it a “buddy comedy” goes too far—but the film is often darkly funny.
Mikkelsen is Markus, a stoic soldier on a tour of duty when he gets tragic news. He must return home to his daughter, Mathilde (the excellent Andrea Heick Gadeberg), after a train accident Mathilde survived that claimed the life of another family member. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), an eccentric man who sat near Mathilde on the train, tells Markus that he believes the accident wasn’t an accident after all. Markus goes from intrigued with Otto’s theory to obsessed—and when he takes some of his oddball friends on a revenge quest, the bodies begin to pile up.
Lars Brygmann and Nicolas Bro round out the rest of Markus’s makeshift “gang,” and they provide many of the laughs.
Jensen directs with steady efficiency through all of the film’s wild turns and shifting tones, pulling great performances out of the entire cast. The movie has its share of shocks to go with its laughs; at times, you’ll find yourself giggling at something and then recoiling in horror. At times, you might find yourself doing both.
Mikkelsen is on a roll with this and last year’s Another Round. His Markus is a splendid creation—a cold bastard, delivered a bad hand, who avoids all of the typical action-thriller stereotypes. He’s as unique of a character as you will see in a movie this year.
Riders of Justice is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com on Friday, May 21.