“This really sucks. What the hell did we ever do to you?”
Riders of Justice is the sort of revenge action-comedy that takes its time contemplating whether all the double-taps delivered by grieving father Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) into gangsters’ craniums are really justified. Not in a moralistic sense; there’s no time to question our enjoyment of graphic violence. Rather, it pokes fun at the causal contrivances that undergird the revenge genre. Its characters ruminate about coincidence and responsibility between action beats. The violence brings meaning and order to their pain and suffering. Is that OK? Riders doesn’t really care if it’s OK. But it does, just like it satisfies the audience watching it. It’s a smart, thoughtful movie with great performances, good humor and good violence.
Markus is deployed when his wife, Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind), and daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Hick Gadeberg), are caught in a train crash that takes Emma’s life. Also on the train is Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a recently fired computer scientist obsessed with the use of data to predict events before they occur. Otto’s project means breaking certain ethical privacy guidelines, but he’s driven by past pain that he keeps to himself. Otto’s partner, Lennart (Lars Brygmann), is a kinder soul who also has a dark history. After crunching the data, Otto comes to believe that the crash was a targeted assassination by the biker gang Riders of Justice and recruits Lennart, Markus and a computer hacker named Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) to help punish the men he believes are responsible.
What ensues is a twisty tale about pain and how to deal with it, and what use it is to track down and massacre a heavily armed European gang. It brings to mind films like John Wick, which simplified the revenge story into a simple “They fucked with me, and I’m going to fuck with everyone they know.” Markus is no Wick (although he’s close, and Mikkelsen kills the role), but he’s a smooth operator with a hair-trigger temper and lethal skills that make him terrifying to watch.
Director Anders Thomas Jensen impeccably balances the intimate character moments with the action and comedy, aided by the incredible cast. Mikkelsen gets the credit because he’s the face of the film, but Kaas in particular makes Otto a wonderful counter-weight. The two share sequences of truthful mourning that pack a real dramatic punch.
As theaters open up and all the big action movies start to return to screens, it’s worth making some time for Riders of Justice, which you can watch and home and probably enjoy a lot more than everything else released this weekend.