Danish film “Riders of Justice” is an unorthodox mix of drama, comedy, and violence which will catch you off guard more than once during your viewing. As deftly swinging back and forth between dark offbeat comedy and serious revenge drama, the movie somehow strikes the right balance among a number of seemingly clashing elements in the story, and it is even quite poignant at times while never losing its quirky sense of black humor.
Everything in the story begins from one very unfortunate train accident which causes the death of 11 passengers inside the train. One of the dead passengers is the wife of a veteran solider named Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), and he quickly comes back to his home after being notified of this sad news at his military camp in Afghanistan. While feeling quite guilty about usually not being there for his wife and their teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), Markus adamantly refuses to recognize his mounting grief and anger as your average stoic tough guy, and that certainly frustrates Mathilde a lot, who happened to be with her mother at that time and has quietly struggled to understand and deal with the loss resulted by her mother’s death.
Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann), a couple of digital algorithm developers who recently got fired for the totally worthless result of their project. No matter how much Otto tries to explain to his bosses on how the result will be meaningful in the end, he only makes himself look silly and pathetic in front of them, and his partner does not help much as saying wrong things at wrong moments.
Not long after becoming unemployed, Otto happened to get on that train, and he interacted a bit with Markus’ wife and daughter right before that accident happened. He luckily survived, and then he becomes quite obsessed with that accident. Two of the accident victims turn out to be a member of an infamous motorcycle gang named Riders of Justice and the lawyer representing him, and their death benefits the leader of that motorcycle gang at lot, who could go to prison if that deceased member were alive and testified against him at the court. The more Otto looks into the situation, the more he wonders whether there is actually something criminal behind the incident.
Otto comes to delve deeper into that matter along with Lennart and a fellow computer expert named Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), and he accordingly becomes more convinced that the incident was not just an unfortunate accident at all. He subsequently tries to tell his seemingly plausible theory to the cops assigned to the case, but, of course, the cops are apparently skeptic right from when he opens his mouth.
In the end, Otto and Lennart approach to Markus because Otto feels that Markus deserves to know the truth, and Markus, who has silently grieved more over his wife’ death while struggling to reconnect with his daughter, soon finds himself drawn to Otto and Lennart’s conspiracy theory, which looks more plausible as Otto shows Markus several pieces of information pointing to that motorcycle gang. As a man with a particular set of skills, Markus may help Otto and his friends a bit in dealing with those dangerous motorcycle gang members, and Markus eventually comes to accompany them during their visit to a potential suspect who happens to be closely associated with that motorcycle gang.
Now I should be more careful about describing the film, which bounces from one unexpected moment to another as rolling along its seemingly predictable genre narrative. For example, you may not be surprised by what suddenly occurs during a certain crucial scene involved with that potential suspect in question, but then the movie drops a little surprising moment of humor, and you will be surprised more as watching that moment leads to more laugh and poignancy later in the story.
Although many of its main characters are more or less than broad archetypes, the screenplay by director/writer Anders Thomas Jensen, which was developed from a story idea from Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel, gradually generates a considerable amount of pathos around them. While Markus and his daughter’s struggle with their loss and grief is presented with enough sensitivity and seriousness, Otto and his nutty friends turn out to have each own pain and torment as damaged persons, and there is a little funny but touching scene where one of them shows some compassion to a supporting character who suffered lots of abuse just like he did a long time ago.
The story naturally becomes more violent during its last act, but the movie does not lose its balance at all as continuing to throw more surprises for us, and the main cast members willingly hurl themselves into more violence and absurdity. While Mads Mikkelsen, who previously collaborated with Jensen in “Men & Chicken” (2015), holds the center as the straight hero of the story, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, and Nicolas Bro are colorfully eccentric as required, and Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Gustav Lindh, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, and Roland Møller are also effective in their respective supporting roles.
Overall, “Riders of Justice” did a funny and compelling job of twisting and playing with its genre elements, and, along with Thomas Vinterberg’s recent Oscar-winning film “Another Round” (2020), it surely demonstrates to us Mikkelsen’s undeniable talent and presence. He is indeed one of the best movie actors in our time, and I wholeheartedly recommend you to watch these two films together someday.