Movie Review: Riders of Justice

A scene from RIDERS OF JUSTICE, a Magnet release. © Kasper Tuxen. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Plot: Tragedy strikes the family of solider Marcus (Mads Mikkelsen) when his wife is accidentally killed in a train collision. Upon returning home, Marcus struggles to deal with his grief and find peace with his estranged daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick). However, Marcus’ life is thrown further into disarray when computer scientists Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann) approach Marcus with a startling revelation. The accident may have been no accident at all, but a carefully planned assassination attempt to eliminate a key witness in the trial of the head of a notorious motorcycle gang called The Riders of Justice. The news creates an unlikely alliance between disparate people and instigates a desperate plot of revenge.

Review: There’s an interesting trend that’s developed on Twitter in recent months. People will challenge others to describe their favorite movies in a sentence or two without overtly indicating the title. In the case of the Danish film Riders of Justice, the sentence might be as follows: The wrong color bicycle unwittingly unleashes a maelstrom of violence and revenge. I know that probably makes zero sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the film but trust me it is an accurate if somewhat enigmatic description.

What isn’t inscrutable however, are my feelings about this film. Riders of Justice is quite simply put a masterpiece and the best film I’ve seen so far this year. This is no mere revenge thriller, as the trailers might have you believe. Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen’s film is so much more. It’s a superb meditation on grief and trauma and how we try to make sense out of senseless acts, often in disastrous ways.

Jensen’s script abounds with empathy and demonstrates a firm understanding of the human condition. It’s philosophical but never pedantic and always engaging. Jensen realizes this vision by providing the audience with genuinely likeable but flawed characters. Otto, Lennart, and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) are skilled computer programmers adept at dealing with machines, yet not always with humans. This fact often results in profound and hilarious situations, especially Bro’s character who on the one hand can explode with anger about not having a monitor with adequate visual specs and then show a remarkably adept hand at shooting weapons.

What makes these three characters likeable though is that they are each dealing with some specific past trauma whether it’s Otto’s alcoholism that caused the destruction of his family or Lennart’s past sexual abuse. Riders of Justice truly does a remarkable job of showing how sharing trauma and confronting trauma can help you overcome it. Time and again Riders of Justice reminds us that only by sharing that pain and consistently engaging in human connection, can we grow as people and share in the joy of true fellowship.

It’s a lesson that Mikkelsen’s Marcus takes a long time to understand. A stone wall of modern male machismo, he masks his feelings and somehow expects his daughter to push through her grief with no assistance. Marcus won’t even allow grief counselors to help his daughter Mathilde, feeling that the issue is a private matter and a sign of weakness. A complete empiricist who finds no comfort in the words of priests, grief and sadness are useless emotions to be ground to pulp. It is only when Otto and his colleagues come to him does he find a true outlet for his grief. Revenge, killing, and death Marcus understands implicitly. His recalcitrance makes two emotional scenes late in the film attain a level of profoundness that had me in tears. Mikkelsen gives an astounding performance in Riders of Justice that’s far removed from his performance in Another Round as you can possibly imagine. At this point I’d watch the dude read from a cookbook on screen.

This isn’t to say that Riders of Justice is some two-hour long dissertation on Kierkegaard and Kant. Far from it. Anders shows a remarkable adeptness in crafting a taunt thriller with some amazing moments of tension. The violent action scenes are just enough to not seem excessive, and they are incredibly well choreographed and brilliantly shot by cinematographer Kasper Tuxen. It all leads to a stunning revelation in the third act that left me absolutely gob smacked and questioning everything about statistics, causality, and chance. This dovetails nicely into a bloody, violent, and cathartic conclusion. Riders of Justice’s denouement leaves you with a sense of hope and satisfaction and ties things together with a final shot I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.

One of the great joys of being is a cinephile is getting the opportunity to be surprised. Riders of Justice thoroughly surprised me. I was not expecting an expertly crafted meditation on the vicissitudes of life under the guise of a revenge thriller. Do not let the subtitles dissuade you. Riders of Justice is absolutely a must see for any movie fan and the best film I’ve seen so far in 2021. Don’t miss it.

My rating System:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

Riders of Justice: 10/10