PLOT: After his wife is killed in a train derailment, a military man, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) is convinced by a survivor of the accident (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) that it was no accident. Rather, he and his crew of statisticians tell him that it was a deliberate attack to eliminate a key witness in a criminal case against an infamous biker gang called “The RIDERS OF JUSTICE”. Markus, who’s also dealing with his traumatized daughter, declares war on the gang, using his combat skills to pick them off one-by-one, while also finding a bizarre surrogate family in this crew of misfits.
REVIEW: Riders of Justice is being sold domestically as a straight-forward revenge tale. On the poster you have Mads Mikkelsen in an action movie pose with a gun, with the typical tag line “someone is going to pay.” Here’s the thing – Riders of Justice is a revenge movie. There’s loads of action and a body count in the dozens. But it’s also just as much a dark comedy and a sweet family melodrama. It’s an interesting mash-up of genres that is very evocative of other films made in Denmark, where Mads and his co-star Nikolaj Lie Kaas are super A-list.
Just like Mikkelsen’s other big recent Danish movie (Another Round), Riders of Justice will likely get a big American remake deal at some point, but the resulting film won’t be anywhere near as interesting as Anders Thomas Jensen’s original. Mikkelsen is great as the hardened military man, who suddenly finds himself a single father after his wife dies. He’s left with an emotionally scarred and neglected teenage daughter (the terrific Andrea Heick Gadeberg) who wants her dad to open up, but he’s incapable. Revenge proves to be a great distraction, with him more comfortable mowing down bikers with his M-16 than participating in family therapy with his daughter.
Mikkelsen’s Markus is a hard-ass, but you also get the sense that he’s trying to be a good dad and a good guy to boot. When he smacks his daughter’s boyfriend for mouthing off, you get the sense immediately that he regrets what he did, and it’s a tribute to the maturity of Danish films that the two simply sit and talk things out rather than paint either guy as two-dimensional. It’s a great role for him and hopefully this and Another Round show Hollywood there’s a lot more to him than bad guy roles in big franchises (I still hope he’s playing a good guy in Indy 5 rather than a villain).
Riders of Justice is also more of an ensemble than a straight-forward star vehicle, with Nikolaj Lie Kass’ character just as important, with him a statistician with his own demons struggling to overcome a sense of guilt. Being a nice guy, he gave up his seat to Markus’ wife on the train, leading inadvertently to her death. His idea of revenge is hacking into the gang’s bank accounts and signing them up for a bunch of dumb memberships. Mads prefers murder. Kass also has lovely chemistry with Gadeberg, who – in yet more proof of the Danish sensibility- never blames him for what happened to her mom and actually quite likes him in the end.
Kass’s misfit buddies are a solid bunch too. Danish star Nicolas Bro is the overweight team hacker who’s tougher than he looks, while Lars Brygmann is terrific as an emotionally scarred rape survivor who finds common ground with a biker victim played by Gustav Lindh. Again, it’s unique that the two survivors of sexual assault in this are both men. The bikers – led by Skyscraper’s Roland Møller, are a demonic bunch, with them reprobate sex traffickers and rapists, so when Mads starts mowing them down you can’t help but root for him even if the case against them orchestrating the train accident is circumstantial at best.
While I loved Riders of Justice, it bears mentioning that this may not be for all tastes. A lot of folks don’t like their violent thrillers laced with heavy doses of dark comedy and family drama, so if you’re looking for a straight-ahead revenge pic this isn’t for you. But, if you’re a touch adventurous in your choices, give this one a watch. For the record – former JoBlo staff member and my Beard and the Bald co-host Paul Shirey loved it, as did Jessica Dwyer of Fantasizing About Fantasy Films. My partner Laura also adored it. It’s utterly unique and thoroughly entertaining.