Structured as an action thriller, Riders of Justice, Anders Thomas-Jensen latest Danish contribution to the crime thriller, is an entertaining character-driven story that offers some characterization and sophisticated themes with the bloodshed. Despite drifting in way too many narrative directions, Jensen’s latest is still a stylized and taut suspense thriller mostly succeeds due to stern and transformative performance by Mads Mikkelsen and some interesting ideas that prevent it from being dull or routine.
Part dark comedy, part revenge thriller, Jensen’s film is about flawed men trying to cope against the tragedies they have endured and seek revenge on the individuals responsible for them. The film also gets quite philosophical about chaos theory, how one choice or decision can spiral and create other unraveling realities one wouldn’t have experienced if they didn’t make a certain choice that becomes drastic and out of their control. The film also is about grief, friendship, and at its core a father-daughter relationship film. Mikkelson is quite transformative here as Markus, a Danish soldier who returns back to Denmark after his wife and many others die in an awful train accident. He ends up being encountered by a group of scientists (Lars Brygmann, Nikoalj Lie Kaas, and Nicholas Bro) who believe the train was far from an accident, but actually a target hit on someone in a former gang who’s about to testify against the gang.
Discouraged and enraged, Markus decides to take matters into his own hands by going after the gang. While the film has a lot of revenge movie tropes and some clichés, Jensen should be commended for also taking the material into different directions. Especially with the dynamics between Markus and his traumatized teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) who he attempts to reconnect with, yet she is very hesitant towards him due to his temper and violent nature. The film is more about rehabilitation than revenge, and Jensen explores this concept well in the film while still delivering the thrills.
The small band of men end up tracking down one of the gang members that’s named Riders, Markus ends up disarming him and easily. breaks his neck. The scientists,–Otto, Lennart, and Ementhaler are terrified, and Markus is very determined in tracking down every member of the gang to seek revenge for his dead wife. Eventually, the scientists use their own knowledge of computers and surveillance to track down the rest of the gang members. In return, Markus also trains them how to shoot a weapon and how to survive in case they are targeted by the gang. Mathilde wonders who these men are, and Otto ends up giving her a lot of psychological advice on how to cope with her grief, insecurities, and distrust she holds against her father.
The group of men is quite compelling as well, especially Emmethalaer who is obese, lonely, impatient, stressed, and very OCD that holds so much emotions that are boggled inside. His anxiety and hidden rage explodes and his character almost takes over the entire film. His primal nature on many levels echoes the one of Markus, almost like the one that has been undercut and bullied for too long for once has a combative nature and takes on his repressed masculinity. It’s commending how Jensen truly builds these strong character arcs that are unique, layered, and actually earned.
While some of the action and revenge scenes feel familiar, there is still some nail-biting and spontaneous energy that prevents it from being flat. The film triumphs more with the writing, character depth, and performances. The film probably would have been more ingenious and subversive had Jensen gone a more satirical approach with the violence, in which it would have elevated the material fully away from routine action clichés. All around Riders of Justice offers a lot of narrative threads that doesn’t quite succeed on every level, it’s still an elusive, smooth, and engrossing suspense drawer.