Sunday, 28 February 2021

RIDERS OF JUSTICE - Glasgow Film Festival review

When his wife dies in what appears to be a tragic train accident, soldier Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), returns home to care for his daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), who survived the crash. Also among the survivors was Otto (Nikolas Lie Kaas), a theoretical scientist who thinks the events leading up to the crash point to it being an elaborate hit on one of the other passengers, soon to be a key witness against a notorious biker gang. Approaching the grieving Markus with his ideas, they form an unlikely group of vigilantes to bring down the bikers, the Riders of Justice.

Mikkelsen's latest collaboration with director Anders Thomas Jensen - that also sees regular co-stars Nicolaj Lie Kaas and Nicolas Bro as members of his crew of hackers - Riders of Justice is a darkly funny action thriller that asks some deep philosophical questions about fate, coincidence, chaos theory and the butterfly effect. Otto is the inventor of a probability calculator that is able to analyse coincidences to predict trends before they happen, but that had no clear real world application until the tragic crash. Along with his colleagues Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Bro) they convince Markus that the blame can be assigned to the Riders of Justice, as a whistleblower former member was also on the train and a suspicious looking man who exited the train shortly before the crash resembles the brother of the gang leader. More emotionally stable than her father, Mathilde too hopes to work out why this tragedy befell them, covering her walls in post-it notes that chart the events of the day. Had someone not stolen her bike, could she and her mother have avoided the tragedy, or was it the phone call Markus made that morning to say he was going to be away for three more months the reason they took the train? Who, if anyone, is to blame?

From the outside Riders of Justice looks like a suitably dour experience, and it certainly offers moments of that. As an emotionally shuttered man full of pent up aggression, Markus is unable to vocalise his grief and quick to lash out with his fists at his daughter's blue-haired boyfriend Sirius (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), or Otto's group of hackers, posing as the psychiatric help his daughter pleads with him to get. With his shaved head and greying beard, Mads's Markus is a departure from the silver fox roles he's become popular for in recent years, but it's as impressive a performance we've come to expect from Mikkelsen. He's on fantastically brooding form as the stoic soldier, unable to express any emotion apart from rage, but able to convey so much with his physicality in place of an over abundance of dialogue. When the film pushes into its action elements, it goes hard, and these scenes impressively show that Markus is a highly trained soldier who's willing and able to kill when needed. The easy comparison would be to Liam Neeson's role as a killer turned family man in Taken, but it's more akin to a 21st century Death Wish, albeit with a weapons expert at its core.

The team that forms around him, Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler, are a ragtag bunch of misfits, all middle aged men who've never really grown up, specialising in some form of illegal activity that pulls them in to a darker world without fully comprehending the danger they're putting themselves in. They're the primary source of the dark comedy in the film, with comic observations such as what detergent is the best one to use what hastily cleaning up a crime scene, and what should you do when you find a sex worker tied up in someone else's house? These moments of levity help cut through and enliven what would be a taut revenge thriller, sitting nicely alongside Jensen's other darkly comic works with Mikkelsen and Kaas, Men & Chicken, The Green Butchers and Adam's Apples. It's also another appealing entry into the "Mads and friends get into ill-advised mischief" cycle of films alongside the upcoming ode to alcohol, Another Round.

Delivering enough gunfire and bloodshed to appeal to action thriller fans whilst also revelling in its black humour, Riders of Justice digs into a grieving man's emotional state to ask questions about causality, the futility of pride and the price of vengeance.

Verdict

5/5

Glasgow Film Festival runs between 24th February and 7th March. All films are released at different times, whereafter they can be rented for three days at £9.99 each.

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