Riders Of Justice: Review – In this drama/thriller, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) a soldier serving overseas returns home after his wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) dies in a train accident along with several other passengers. Their daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) was also on the train but survived. Markus tries to reconnect with Mathilde as they wrestle with their loss. For her part, Mathilde hopes to directly confront her grief and find a reason for the tragedy whereas Markus appears distant. Meanwhile, a man named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who offered Emma his seat on the train, begins to investigate the crash. Otto specializes in collecting data to explain and theoretically one day predict human behavior.
Otto finds out that a passenger on the train was scheduled to testify against his biker gang, The Riders of Justice. This knowledge leads Otto to believe the accident was no accident, but an assination by the gang in order to silence the informant. When the police opt not to investigate this theory, Otto and his research partner Lennart (Lars Brygmann) present this information to Markus. The trio along with computer expert Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) resolve to track down and kill members of the biker gang as retribution for the deaths on the train. As their mission grows more complex, each of the characters must learn to cope with the loss and injustice they have experienced in their lives.
Director/writer Anders Thomas Jensen working from an idea he developed with Nikolaj Arcel presents a very thoughtful and nuanced film. While there have been many films about people exacting revenge after the death of a loved one, this film offers a more character-driven, philosophical approach. As opposed to the film moving from one set piece filled with action and violence to another, Jensen instead places the emphasis on the people in the story. Choosing to examine the various ways humans handle grief and give meaning to the events that happen in the world around them, whether it be religion, violence, or embracing a sort of “randomness” of the universe. Many scenes feature characters sitting in a room together talking about why people do what they do. When violence does occur on screen, it is not a fantastical celebration of revenge, it is gritty, visceral, and does not shy away from the impact it has on both the perpetrators and the victims. Additionally, while the film has a very serious story and deals with mature themes, Jensen allows for natural humor and levity to emerge as a result of the report between the characters. This ensures the film has layers and emotional range throughout, rather than fatiguing the audience with only drama and tension for the two hour runtime.
All the performers here do an excellent job bringing their characters to life, particularly Mikkelsen as Markus, a man who by way of his occupation is used to loss and violence and who appears quite stoic, but who is also enraged by the loss of his wife. Mikkelsen does a great job presenting this cold exterior while still showing the sadness and pain that is barely below the surface. Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Andrea Heick Gadeberg are also standouts as Otto and Mathilde respectively. Both characters are affected by grief like the rest of the cast, but unlike how some characters choose to deflect or resort to violence, Otto and Mathilde speak openly about their pain and wish to help others do the same. Both performers do a fine job of embodying this more vulnerable and open approach to the grieving process.
The cinematography by Kasper Tuxen is also a highlight of the film. Tuxen makes great use of handheld camerawork which adds a more visceral feel to the moments of action in the film while also crafting a more personal and intimate feel for the dialogue scenes between characters. In addition, Tuxen makes great use of low-light throughout the film. Early on in the film, there is a scene where Markus is flying back home after the accident. In one shot he is on a dark plane with only soft blue and red lighting partially lighting his figure. This limited but intentional use of lighting does a great job of placing us in Markus’ shocked and isolated headspace.
Riders of Justice is a revenge film that may not have enough action for some viewers familiar with revenge thrillers, but if viewers are looking for a film that earnestly looks at how people respond to tragedy and grief and try to make sense of the world, featuring great writing, memorable performances and thoughtful framing, viewers should not miss this.
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