In ‘Riders of Justice’, a soldier, 3 researchers and a confirmation bias enter a dark bar
Quality: 3.5 / 5.0
Content Warning: Sexual Violence
Someone, without knowing who, must have wondered what would happen if John Wick lost something more important than a dog. “Riders of Justice” is a gloriously different movie, but the answer, in John Wick’s terms, is much darker.
There will be no deja vu while watching “Riders of Justice”. Director Anders Thomas Jensen (co-credited for writing) directed a fabulously idiosyncratic revenge thriller. It opens with a simple and intelligent stage. A girl wants a blue bicycle for Christmas, but the seller only has red. Thus, the innocent young girl sets off a chain of events that leads to the death of the wife of military man Markus (Mads Mikkelsen, stony, calculated, overflowing with violence). At the opening of the film, there is a lot of meat about “what if” and how the decisions become entangled – a puzzle that haunts the film.
If the opening streak gets lethargic at times, Jensen got caught by the fact that Markus’ wife is ripped off, with the wall of a train. Probability researchers and best friends Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann) show up at Markus’ house, insisting with statistical certainty that his death was a byproduct of the murder of a witness testifying against a biker gang.
A few laps later, a Markus wearing Carhartt jeans and emotional retardation kills a gang member, researchers in tow. Perhaps her daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), was right in telling her to accept free therapy. The film’s compositions – thematic and visual – are often based on distinct contrasts. The same goes for his sense of humor, like the size difference between Otto and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a facial recognition expert who is committed to tracking down this guy who hit Markus’ rage, as well. than the next dozen villains. (Otto is wrapped on a slice of the bed, Emmenthaler, spread eagle, occupies the other three quarters.)
Such contrasts make “Riders of Justice” such a fun movie. But Jensen doesn’t play, and he chases every gag with a punch. Behind the funny pokes, “Riders of Justice” is the vehicle of some very disturbed characters. They aren’t anguished the same way: Markus is Markus, Otto suffers from the horrors of a drunken car crash, and Lennart from a sexually abusive childhood, while Emmenthaler struggles with personal confidence.
Further below that trauma is a distinctly eerie narrative led by the supporting cast. “Riders of Justice” is kind enough not to hit viewers with this, however. Sexuality is never open – it’s even modestly ambiguous here – but Lennart was clearly abused by a man as a child, and he has a relationship with Emmenthaler like the one between two fiery exes. As Markus wage war on the gang, the supporting characters mark their crusade against members of the homophobic gang.
Where “Riders of Justice” goes wrong is its refusal to completely break with the typical. The supporting characters are unique and refreshing – we haven’t even met the rescued sex slave – but their lairs aren’t. Haven’t we had enough of connecting homosexuals to pedophilia? The inspired characters risk dissolving in their misfortunes, becoming images of the past instead of revelations of the future they are near. The fact remains, however: these are some of the more singular characters that have been showcased on screens lately, even though they need some fleshing out.
The same goes for the rest of the movie. Quite often Jensen makes brilliant, but dark and subversive forays into ingenuity, returning to the rigid form of the revenge thriller – an origin story leads to platitudes, and so on. “Riders of Justice” is so close to rethinking it all, and it throws some action movie standbys, but inevitably locks into the scheme. We find ourselves in a meteoric impasse at Markus which puts Mathilde in danger, because we have to do it.
By the end of the movie, however, Jensen seems to be getting noticed. It won’t spoil to say that everything ties together in time for a warm and fuzzy Christmas except Markus. He’s still pretty much the same as him. Even as Otto – who like the other characters has built himself up – gives Markus a kind look, “Riders of Justice” himself seems to be saying “suck it, loser” to the convention-bound macho.
Contact Dominic Marziali at [email protected].