FlixChatter Review: Riders of Justice (2021)

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It seems that I watch more foreign cinema during film festivals and I’ve enjoyed quite a few Danish films in the past, a few of them star Mads Mikkelsen. This time, Mads plays Markus, a Danish soldier who comes home from his Afghanistan deployment to his teenage daughter when his wife dies suddenly in a tragic train accident. The event is officially classified as an accident, though a recently-fired math geek Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who happens to be a fellow passenger on that train doesn’t think so. The movie doesn’t waste its time to get to the point where Markus and Otto’s intersect, and along the way we’re introduced to Markus’ teen daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), as well as Otto’s equally quirky colleagues, Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro).

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Poor Otto. Imagine having just been fired from a job, then gets into a train wreck on the way home! When he realizes that one of the victims of the train wreck happens to be a key witness who’s about to testify against the head of Riders of Justice motorbike gang, he becomes convinced it wasn’t just an accident. After the police refuse to believe him, Otto decides to pay Mathilde a visit as he’d seen her at the hospital, largely because he feels guilty that he gave up his seat to her mother on the train. Well, somehow they managed convince Markus that Riders of Justice have orchestrated this whole ‘train accident’ which killed his wife in the process. What follows is a wild, crazy ride riddled with all kinds of anachronistic elements, plenty of wacky algorithm and ‘what if’ suppositions. 

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I wish more films are as well-paced as this one, it’s immediately engaging and it never lets on. The ‘three stooges’ provide the laughs, which is especially hysterical when they pose as the family therapists sent by the government. As Mathilde has always wanted her hard-as-nails father to get grief therapy, she’s quick to believe them. Things got even more bizarre when they end up taking in a young man Bodashka (Gustav Lindh) whom one of the group found in an extremely uncompromising position. I’ll leave off details about him, I think it’s best for you to figure it out for yourself when you see the movie.

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Comedy and tragedy often goes together, but it takes an adept hand to be able to blend the two perfectly. Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen spun this black comedy yarn skillfully, balancing hilarious, even deliberately absurd humor with dramatic, genuinely moving moments of someone coming to terms with traumatic loss. He’s worked with Mads five times previously, and perhaps with the other cast members as well. There’s a natural rapport among them that doesn’t feel manufactured, which only adds to the strength of this unlikely ensemble. As if we ever had any doubt about Mads’ strength as an actor, this film will remind us again just how remarkable he is. Markus’ breakdown is a memorable moment that shows his vulnerable side, and the one-on-one chat with Otto is my favorite dramatic moment of the movie. I’ve never seen Nikolaj Lie Kaas before but he’s wonderfully sympathetic as Otto and I’d love to see more of Kaas’ work.

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This Danish action comedy could be the gem of the year, delivering laughs and intense brutal action in equal measure. It can switch from hilarity to extreme brutality in quick succession, yet it doesn’t feel jarring. Comedy fans will surely enjoy the moments of them setting up in the barn and weapons training in the woods, but action fans will relish in the ruthless shoot-em-up on the streets. Violence has always been Markus’ form of therapy and Jensen is unafraid to illustrate that point. I also didn’t see the plot twist coming, which is another testament to Jensen’s solid script. 

You might know about the ongoing debate whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie? Well, I feel like Riders of Justice could very well enter the discussion thanks to the final scene. Few would debate that this is NOT just a run-of-the-mill revenge thriller. Now, if you only go by the American poster, you’d be pardoned to assume Mads Mikkelsen is doing his best Jason Statham impression. The original Danish poster with the group (that I posted above) better represents the film that you actually get. The finale is intense, suspenseful, brutal, as well as emotionally heart-wrenching… it’s rare for a movie to be able to hit on all cylinders so well. I enjoyed this one tremendously, I don’t think my fellow critic Peggy is hyperbolic in saying it’s the best film of the year so far.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen RIDERS OF JUSTICE? I’d love to hear what you think!

2018 TCFF Reviews – Across The Waters and The Testament

We’re almost the halfway point of TCFF 2018 and today we’ve got a pair of reviews of two powerful, beautifully-told WWII-themed films.

Thank you Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival for sponsoring both films!


Reviews by Holly Peterson

ACROSS THE WATERS
(Fuglene Over Sundet)

Director: Nicolo Donato
Writers: Per Daumiller, Nicolo Donato

Across the Waters is a pertinent reminder about how quickly a normal life can evaporate and become something unrecognizable. The film, a dramatic retelling of the initial descent of German troops into Denmark during WWII, follows a Jewish family, the Itkins, as they attempt to flee to Sweden. The viewer meets the little family immediately before they realize that their city is no longer safe for them and follows the trio as they lose and find each other time and time again.

The sense of urgency inherent in a story of escape lends a good speed to the storytelling in Across the Waters. In the midst of the underlying panic, writers Per Daumiller and Nicolo Donato create several beautiful portraits of villagers, all of whom respond to the refugees differently. Some take advantage of them, some would take advantage of them if they were braver, some turn a blind eye to the need, some philosophize about doing the right thing but do not follow through.

Each portrait could easily be a standalone story, but instead their climactic highlights are offered as one more strand in the web the Itkin’s must escape . Most stories have a foil. One character will harness the willpower to stand for their values despite the personal cost, and the next will fail.  One character will let their fear drive them to criminality. The next will not.  If nothing else the film constantly reminds us that some of us will do the right thing and others will not.  Neither is inevitable. 

Performances were stunning across the board, but Danica Curcic as Miriam Itkin, Lars Brygmann as Pastor Kjeldgaard, and Katrine Ferdinansen as Laura Bro were especially stunning.

The imagery in Across the Waters is gorgeous, but ultimately distracting.  Too much of the story is told through close ups, shaky cam, and shots that are artistically cut in half with doorways, light flares, and foliage. It is difficult to take in what is happening visually, and although the intention of many of the artistic choices is clear, those intentions didn’t make me any less nauseous trying to follow a handheld extreme close up.

This is the perfect film for those of you who are looking for something to pull at your heartstrings, stir up conversation, or maybe even serve as a call to action.


THE TESTAMENT

Director: Amichai Greenberg
Writer: Amichai Greenberg

The Testament is about Yoel, a practicing Jew and historian, who must convince the leadership of his small town to stop development of land on which he believes there is a grave containing the bodies of some 200 Jewish men, women, and children. Fighting against the clock, Yoel struggles to find evidence of the mass grave and, in his search for that truth, he also realizes that there are secrets of his own with which he needs to reconcile.

The multi-layered storytelling by Amichai Greenberg in The Testament is perfectly executed. It is part small town murder mystery, part historical drama, and part hero’s journey. Each of these three stories is complex, full of rich characters, and informative to the other plot-lines. The writing is tight, fast-paced, and emotional.

Ori Pfeffer puts on a spectacular performance as Yoel. He creates a character who is thoroughly unlikable but completely empathetic: a man who alienates everyone and yet has an agenda so important that even though we kind of hate him, we also want him to be successful, and any distaste completely dissolves when he finally reaches his breaking point.

Technically, The Testament is skillfully executed. Sound design is effective, with the exception of a two person scene in a forest that had a backing track of mumbling voices. I’m sure the voices were supposed to create tension, but it was just disorienting. Most of the cinematographic choices favor functionality, which makes the occasional artistic flair land even better. One of my personal favorite shots is at the very beginning of the movie, when Yoel is walking up to an old church, which is framed just off center. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but not only was that a gorgeous shot, it also might have been a wink to the audience regarding a later plot point.

Do not miss this film. It is a personal, historical story that begs its audience to consider their relationship with truth, religion, and how fervently we choose to fight for our own ideals. What happens when the truth that one is raised on turns out to be a falsehood? How much of religion is passed on inter-generationally and how much of it is inherent to the individual? When should one compromise and when should one fight?


Check out what TCFF 2018 has in store for MONDAY!

  • 3:45 PM – The Push
  • 4 PM – Special Ed (Filmmaker In Attendance)
  • 5:30 PM – Change The Outcome
  • 6 PM – Saving Flora (Actors/Filmmakers In Attendance) –
    USA Premiere
  • 6:30 PM – The Lumber Baron (Filmmaker In Attendance)
  • 7:00 PM – Sadie 8:30 PM
  • 9:15 PM – We Can Relate (Shorts Block)
  • 9:20 PM – All Square