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GFF 2021: Riders of Justice Review

“I sometimes think people with problems band together”

Festival favourite Mads Mikkelsen is back with quirky black dramedy Riders of Justice, following the bittersweet Another Round, with it’s UK premiere kicking off at this year’s virtual Glasgow Film Festival. The film surprisingly beat Another Round for best selling opening weekend in Denmark last year, and reunites Mads with Men & Chicken director, propelling the film firmly at the top of my must-watch list at the festival. 

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, Riders of Justice centers on skilled military man Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) who, following the shocking death of his wife in a train crash, returns to care for his daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). However when Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass), a fellow survivor of the crash, and his hacker and information specialist buddies come forward with a theory disputing the fact it was an accident, the most unlikely band of brothers is formed with the aim of exacting justice. 

Anyone tuning in for a John Wick-esque tale of bloody vengeance may be a little disappointed as Jensen’s latest flick surprisingly defies all genre expectations. While there are some brutally impressive and bloody takedowns, Riders of Justice is a far more poignant and touching film exploring the effects of grief and trauma. It’s also outrageously funny at times, with a wholly unique brand of black comedy to boot thanks to the brilliant comedic timing of the ensemble cast and the hilarious spin on the heist and revenge genre. 

With an interesting theme of probability calculation and chaos theory vs fate and coincidence anchoring the central narrative, this an impressively layered film. As Otto, Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) uncover the fact that the ‘crash’ was a cover for a shocking assassination to elimate a key witness ahead of a trial, the twists and turns begin to unravel in a gripping and tense criminal investigation and vigilantism. Motivations for exacting justice and bringing down the biker gang slowly become apparent, whether it’s down to pent up rage from years of bullying or attempting to atone for a previous error of judgement.

There’s no denying that Mikkelsen is on a real role at the moment following the fantastic drama Another Round. Long gone is the joyful dancing however, with an almost unrecognisable Mads as the bristling vet who’s consumed by vengeance and revenge. Lethal with and without a gun, he doesn’t hesitate to take down a number of biker gang members single handedly, yet hilariously struggles to deal with the ever bickering trio of Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler. Kass, Brygmann and Bro are the real stars here however, with each actor bringing a distinctly unique quirk to each of their impressively developed characters. 

The squabbling dynamic between the trio of outcasts is a real highlight, particularly when Lennart and Emmenthaler vehemently disagree over computer screen size and quality. The fact that Lennart has proudly seen more than 25 psychologists over 40 years and attempts to help Mathilde is brilliant, along with a surprisingly hidden talent unearthed in a rifle assembling training session.

Whilst full of black comedy and more poignant moments, there are also a number of fantastically choreographed action sequences which could definitely catapult Mikkelsen to leading action status. Events lead to a particularly tense and thrilling climax with a shootout sequence reminiscent of the old Westerns, featuring one of the film’s standout comedic lines “I am unhit!” The violence is stark and brutal but always feels very real, and when the long awaited showdown finally begins, there’s plenty of blood and gore to keep the revenge fans happy.

Verdict

While tonally it’s a bit of a mixed bag, Riders of Justice really clicks into place with the dark humour & more tender moments. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast, this Danish revenge thriller is a quirky and surprisingly poignant instalment from Jensen. Whilst the switch in tone throughout may not sit with most, I found myself completely gripped throughout and adored the concept of the outcasts attempting to bring down the biker gang. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me!

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