Riders of Justice

 

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A Danish film offers a blend that shouldn’t work but does.

 
Riders of Justice

 

It is somewhat ironical that Anders Thomas Jensen is better known to us as a writer than as a director because this latest work of his - the fifth on which he has been both writer and director - ultimately suffers from weaknesses in the screenplay. Happily, though, there is much to be enjoyed in Riders of Justice before that stage is reached and as director he does a great job with material which could easily have failed to work. Indeed, for much of its length I felt that Riders of Justice might pull off a double that is very rare: on the one hand it has the potential to be offbeat enough to become a cult hit, while on the other hand it possesses sufficient commercial appeal to be an immediate big arthouse success.

 

Set for the most part in Denmark, Jensen’s film has the advantage of starring Mads Mikkelsen currently on a high following his appearance in the Oscar winner Another Round. Here he plays Markus, a husband and father whose wife is killed in a train crash and who is soon persuaded that it was no accident but an incident planned by a gang known as the Riders of Justice. The police are unconvinced, but the theory arises because another traveller who died was a witness ready to give evidence against the gang.

 

Since the storyline finds Markus, a soldier at home with weapons, setting out to avenge his wife’s death by tracking down and killing the leading gang members, Riders of Justice might have been no more than a standard work of the kind that Michael Winner often made. Instead, it is a unique blend being part-thriller, part-comedy and part playful philosophical enquiry. The thriller element brings in action and suspense but enriches it through well-judged characterisations. Another dramatic thread exists here too since, in addition to the grief of Markus, we witness that of his daughter Mathilde who had been on the train with her mother but had survived with only minor injuries. This role is very well played by Andrea Heick Gadeberg.

 

As for the comedy, that aspect comes in through the personalities of the three men, all loners and eccentrics, who unite in assisting Markus with his plans. First and foremost, there is Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a data analyst who had witnessed the crash and whose belief in his skills has persuaded him that he is right to assert that it was a criminal act. Then there’s Otto’s friend, Lennart (Lars Brygmann), who is easily convinced and the obese Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) an expert hacker who can help in tracking down information supporting the supposition that the gang were responsible. At one stage Lennart and Emmenthaler are mistaken by Mathilde for psychiatrists sent to help her and her father and Emmenthaler in particular, having often been on the receiving end of therapy, is happy to advise Mathilde in this way. That’s a potent comic set-up, but it is not only these scenes that render the trio memorable comic characters. The three actors play together beautifully to bring out that element, but nevertheless they ensure that the trio remain real enough to make the screenplay effective when it eventually slips in information about their past history and invites us to see them as victims of life.

 

This unusual balance is enough in itself to make Riders of Justice distinctive, but on top of that is the third thread that runs through it. The film opens in Tallinn where Mathilde shows an interest in obtaining a bicycle and this pre-credit sequence is only relevant because the film builds up notions about causation and coincidence which go all the way back to that bike. This element intrigues whether or not one chooses to take it seriously and this freedom to gauge your response applies equally to some of those scenes in which Emmenthaler is pretending to be a therapist (it’s clearly a comic situation that he is in, but some of what he says may be valid for all that). As it happens, there is also an extra unplanned coincidence at play on viewing the film now: the trio can be viewed as unhappy people who all too readily latch on to outlandish theories that may not be true and that leads one to find a link between them and the many present-day Americans who believe Trump’s Big Lie.

 

Put all this together and then present it dextrously directed and with a fine ensemble cast and you have the potential for a very telling and individual work if not necessarily enough to make a masterpiece. What a pity, then, that Riders of Justice, which feels overlong at 116 minutes, should largely jettison its successful mix in the last twenty minutes or so. First there’s a scene involving Otto that becomes pointedly dramatic and intense and then a climax which plays out like that of any conventional thriller followed by a conclusion set at Christmas which, if taken at face value, opts for sentimentality. The splendidly original virtues of the piece have become lost, but while they last they are far too enjoyable for me to suggest that you should miss out on this film.

 

Original title: Retfaerdighedens ryttere.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Anne Birgitte Lind.

 

Dir Anders Thomas Jensen, Pro Sisse Graum Jørgensen and Sidsel Hybschmann, Screenplay Anders Thomas Jensen, Ph Kaspar Tuxen, Pro Des Nikolaj Danielsen, Ed Nicolaj Monberg and Anders Albjerg Kristiansen, Music Jeppe Kaas, Costumes Vibe Knoblauch Hededam.

 

Zentropa Entertainments/Film i Väst/Zentropa Sweden/FilmFyn-Vertigo Films.
116 mins. Denmark/Sweden. 2020. Rel: 23 July 2021. Cert. 15.