Duration: 1h 56m
Writer/Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg
By Caz Armstrong
This latest dark comedy-drama by writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen is a madcap and violent ride with a bunch of men who desperately need therapy.
After Mathilde’s (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) bike is stolen and her mum’s car won’t start the pair are forced to ride the train together. On that train is an ex-gang member about to testify against his old crew and Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a statistician who has just been fired from his job. The train crashes, killing Mathilde’s mum amongst many others.
Otto believes there is no such thing as coincidence if you can only unravel all the individual factors that led up to that point. So, fuelled partly by a sense of duty to Mathilde, and partly by a faith in statistics, he approaches Mathilde’s father Markus (Mads Mikkleson) claiming the crash was deliberate.
Markus is a career soldier with a quick temper and a propensity for violence. Otto and his friends are geeky misfit hackers who squabble constantly. Together, the unlikely group seek their own justice for what happened.
Here we have an interesting collection of male characters and just one female. This is an exploration of men in particular reacting to trauma and toxic masculinity not trauma response, in general, and so women are almost entirely absent. It’s great to see men dealing with these themes on screen, as this is a topic too often hidden away. However, the changeable tone of the film and the comedic moments undermine these efforts a little.
We learn about various traumatic events and abuses with a hint of comedy. Tender moments don’t mean as much when the characters don’t seem intended to be taken seriously. We can see that past sexual abuse has seriously damaged one character in particular but we are invited to laugh nervously at his response to it, and his thousands of hours in therapy.
Perhaps humour is what’s needed to make these topics easier to digest. After all, this is a fairly fun film it’s not a serious tragedy. But it doesn’t quite feel like the balance is right in places.
Mads Mikkleson’s central character is a man of stoicism and quick temper. He plays it with the seething internalised anger of someone who has faced death so many times he has become desensitised to it. Just when you think all this stoicism is stifling the full force of Mikkleson’s acting power it bursts forth and we see his true abilities.
Otto is set up as the befuddled brains of the operation but when it comes to his inner workings Nikolaj Lie Kaas shows he can do gut-wrenching emotion too.
The theories of coincidence, fate, divine intervention and statistical probability intertwine to create an interesting backdrop to what might otherwise have been a fairly plodding action film. There is a bleak kind of reassurance in realising that behind every action are a thousand others that led to that point and that sometimes bad things happen because they just do.
“Riders of Justice” brings up some interesting themes and is amusing enough as a comedy even if it strays into grey areas in places. The tone is a bit inconsistent but the central performances are great the character arcs come will bring fuzzy feelings. This is a solid enough film which combines action, emotion and drama so it’s sure to go down well.
The absence of women in the film could be chalked up to being an exploration of men, trauma and therapy. I do think that women have a bigger part to play than being the unfortunate victims of men’s actions or sparking men’s journeys by getting fridged. But it’s at least positive to see men addressing their trauma and seeking healing, whether in black comedy or otherwise.