“Riders of Justice” casts Mads Mikkelsen as a veteran soldier seeking revenge on the bikers who killed his wife.
Simple. Direct. Vigilante 101, with a fiercely magnetic star front and center. The Danish film is so much more than that, though.
It’s a black comedy laced with moral questions about vengeance, mortality and the pain that bonds even the most diverse souls. It’s also one of the year’s most rewarding films, a story that will make you laugh and wince at regular intervals.
The Danish thriller follows Markus (Mikkelsen), a deployed soldier who comes back home after his wife dies in a train accident. He’s devastated, as is his teen daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). The accident in question, though, may have been a deliberate attempt to kill a potential witness.
The pieces start coming together thanks to a researcher who happened to be on the train at the time of the explosion. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) excels at statistics involving chance, and he has a pair of friends with the kind of skills a vigilante could use to find those who perpetrated the crime.
That allows Markus to do the heavy lifting (AKA murder) while his team searches for those responsible for the “accident” using the latest high-tech gear. Just make sure the resolution is as crisp as possible on those TV monitors!
That’s one of many darkly comic threads interwoven throughout “Justice,” perhaps the funniest vigilante film ever made. Yes, the “John Wick” movies have flashes of levity, but the humor here flows from the characters and their idiosyncratic nature. It’s a true black comedy, and the laughs are both big and rewarding.
FAST FACT: Mads Mikkelsen didn’t leap at the chance to star in NBC’s “Hannibal,” taking on the role immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in three movies. He eventually considered it akin to playing Hamlet, a character performed by hundreds of actors over the years.
The subject is no laughing matter, of course, nor are the waves of grief summoned by death. Yet writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen blends pain, loss and legitimately funny moments in a way that defies categorization. It shouldn’t work, and yet there’s nary a discordant note.
Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) round out Markus’ unlikely team, supplying the bulk of the film’s laugh load. Their silly-tragic musings make you wish they had a franchise all their own.
Mikkelsen is clearly in charge here, demonstrating his lethal skills and parental confusion over how to care for his broken-hearted Mathilde. Meanwhile, the film’s action sequences are muscular and unrelenting, providing vigilante fans with their fix.
In between gunfire and coal-black riffs, “Riders of Justice” suggests the mercurial nature of fate. A single event, like a theft of a bicycle, can set in motion of cascade of trauma.
“Riders of Justice” (a terrible name!) isn’t absurdist like “Nobody,” but it still falls back on genre tropes when necessary.
It’s a shame the film’s resolution feels a tad pat, but after the punishment and pleasures already delivered, you’ll be happy to forgive if not completely forget that flaw. To do otherwise would be criminal.
HiT or Miss: Vigilante film fans will devour “Riders of Justice,” one the smartest, and funniest, takes on the genre … ever.