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).
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.
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.
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.
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.