Having worked together many times before, writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen and actor Mads Mikkelsen come together in collaboration again for revenge comedy Riders of Justice. Disaster strikes on a commuter train in the opening act, leaving maths nerd Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) analysing the algorithms of his lucky escape as troubled soldier Markus (Mikkelsen) returns from war to support his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). When a conspiracy suggests the explosion was caused by a local biker gang known as the Riders of Justice, a violent plan for retribution ensues.
There are a lot of moving parts to this story and the rich premise creates different avenues in which the plot could go. What follows is an elaborate balancing act between a screwball comedy about friendship and a brooding, psychological thriller. As the former, the style is quite an acquired taste, with a cold and minimalistic Scandi sentiment to the humour as Otto calls upon his quirky pals to assist with his predicament. The film is stronger in the darker moments and whilst its ‘father seeks revenge’ path is well trodden territory, there’s a simmering tension in Mikkelsen’s portrayal which is compelling to experience.
The tonal shifts of the narrative feed into the performances as the contrasting personalities cause conflict. Disputes between Otto’s friends Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) develop into a comical double act routine, as one’s methodical thinking clashes with the other’s more gung-ho approach to dealing with their problem. Despite having the central role, Mikkelsen is too often given the backseat in scenes when he should be behind the wheel. Bearded with a buzzcut, he looks almost unrecognisable but the class and quality he offers is unmistakeable. As war machine Markus, he conjures up a heady mix of emotion. Calculated in his execution of violence but suffering from grief and possibly PTSD, there’s an unnerving recklessness to his actions.
An ambitious, entertaining piece from skilled filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, worth watching even if only for Mads Mikkelsen’s smouldering performance.