A delightful mishmash, Danish black comedy Riders of Justice is unlike any revenge thriller you’ve seen before
Mads Mikkelsen plays Markus, a soldier called home from the war when his wife is killed in a train crash and his teenage daughter Mathilde is left alone and traumatised. The two struggle to reconnect, the gruff Markus refusing to engage with the counselling services they have been offered and freezing out a grieving Mathilde who is struggling to reconcile with her loss.
The grieving process takes an unexpected turn when Markus gets a knock on the door from Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler; three statistics academics who have run the numbers and decided the train crash was no accident (Otto having been another passenger on the train who made an improbably lucky escape.) The crash they tell him, was a carefully orchestrated assassination attempt on an infamous gang member with Markus’ wife simply an unfortunate bystander. Before long the soldier and the three nerds have hatched a plan to track down and kill as many gang members as possible, taking vengeance for the innocent people hurt on the train.
Things only get more complicated when Mathilde discovers the new vigilantes plotting in their family barn. In an effort to disguise what they’ve really been up to, Markus lets her think that Lennart and Emmanthaler are family therapists who he is finally accepting help from and Otto another crash victim he has befriended. What follows is a surprising amount of domestic fluffiness as all four men end up living together and engaging in made up therapy sessions with the young girl whilst secretly sneaking out to off gang members on the side.
Riders of Justice is a truly unexpected mishmash of themes and ideas that completely subverts any preconceived notions of the traditional revenge story. It feels like all of it’s main characters are making a film of a different genre. Markus is the traditional stone faced avenger, doling out extreme violence in the vein of Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington. Mathilde’s story is that of a sombre family drama; battling both survivors guilt and her fathers refusal to understand her and he new boryfriend. Meanwhile the three outcast scientists are pure absurdist comedy, constantly bickering and getting themselves into outlandish situations worthy of the best dark sitcoms.
Tonally it’s completely all over the place, not just from scene to scene but sometimes even from line to line. Riders of Justice manages to swing from laugh out loud silliness to skull cracking brutalism to wince worthy references to childhood sexual abuse in the blink of an eye. Each character has a rich and traumatic backstory that comes in to play, creating an oddly loveable band of misfits who are liable to sucker punch you with sadness from time to time.
It really shouldn’t work, but somehow it just does. Riders of Justice somehow manages to be riotously good fun whilst also being a very serious film that examines the cost of vengeance and the toll it takes on people and digs deep into the work it takes to recover from trauma. With a delightfully satisfying final act that manages to dish out bloody violence alongside ‘found family’ fluffiness and unintentional group therapy, this is crowd pleasing fare.
A demented dark comedy that reminded me of the films of Martin McDonagh and Ben Wheatley (In Bruges/Sightseers/Free Fire) Riders of Justice is a slice of subversive brilliance that manages to balance vastly different themes and tones with with a deft touch. A genuinely fresh bit of story telling that manages to keep it’s audience on their toes, this is one to catch if you can.
Riders of Justice is out in cinemas now