Riders of Justice Synopsis: Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), who has to go home to his teenage daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), when his wife dies in a tragic train accident. It seems like an accident until a mathematics expert (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who was also a fellow passenger on the train, and his two colleagues (Nicolas Bro and Lars Brygmann) show up.
An array of disposable actioners have run amuck on VOD platforms, with a majority achieving the bare minimum to satisfy lenient genre fans (I reviewed it last month, yet I can’t remember a single trait from the woefully cheap Vanquish). Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest Riders of Justice may wearily wear that tired veneer in its initial revenge premise, but the final product brilliantly eschews all standard conventionality. Jensen and company skillfully drive an affecting and deeply empathetic condemnation of callous action formula.
I would go as far as to describe Riders of Justice as an anti-action film for its stark viewpoint on the genre. The few blimps of violence land with a whopping punch as Jensen reflects the harrowing senselessness behind each bloody encounter. Where films of this elk shoot first and deal with the fallout later, Jensen frames his story as a tragedy of loss for his central subjects.
Our cold-hearted protagonist Markus may boast the poise and tenacity of the next John Wick, yet Jensen wisely observes the character as a prisoner of his own damaged tendencies. It’s refreshing to see a film purposefully deconstructing common tropes in a deeply humanistic light. Jensen encapsulates themes of toxic masculinity and untamed grief into an intimate descent into human’s binary motivations (Markus is clothed from the fabric of war, dedicating his life to little aside from his military duties).
Instead of rifling through genre contrivances, Jensen creates a wholly unique tale of kindred bonding. Markus’ newfound colleagues, Otto, Lennart, and Emmenthaler, share similar obsessive streaks behind their quirky personas. The trio of brilliant introverts are coded by their pragmatic perspectives and lingering traumas, initially unwilling to see the world outside the gaze of cold-hard truths. Once the quartet unites, their natural companionship slowly erodes those hard-built walls. Jensen’s screenplay presents a deft understanding of characterization, allowing his band of misfits ample screentime to develop their unconventional bond. For a film marketed for its violence, Riders of Justice morphs into a surprisingly moving tale of friendship’s evolving powers.
Thankfully, the brilliant cast elevates those merits to a higher degree. Is there anything Mads Mikkelsen can’t do at this point? His recent breakout pushes forward with another remarkably insulated effort. As Markus, Mikkelsen’s intoxicating rage only serves to suppress the character’s pains, with the actor thoughtfully chipping away at the character’s steely presence as he undergoes evolution. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicolas Bro, and Lars Brygmann make for an affable trio as Markus’ newfound companions. There is an inherent playfulness to the characters’ demeanors, but the trio’s thoughtful wrinkles prevent the three from becoming caricatures.
Riders of Justice serves as a layered and wholly unique achievement from Anders Thomas Jensen. I implore film fans to go into this film with an open mind, as you may be quite surprised by the journey taken from its bland action movie set-up.
RIDERS OF JUSTICE releases in theaters in NY and LA on May 14 and everywhere on May 21.
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