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RIDERS OF JUSTICE  ****

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen.

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg.

Thriller/comedy, Denmark, 116 minutes.

 

Released by Vertigo Releasing.

Reviewed as part of Glasgow Film Festival. Available from 26th February to 1st March.

 

Anders Thomas Jensen’s spin on the revenge film kicks off proceedings with a girl in Estonia asking for a blue bike for Christmas. Such a simple, innocent request is the first link in a chain of events that later involves Mads Mikkelsen going to war with a dangerous biker gang all the way over in Denmark. This off beat journey manages to take in a dysfunctional trio of hackers and a statistician and the damaged relationship between a grieving daughter and her emotionally closed off father. How all these elements come together results in one of the most surprising and refreshing action/revenge films in some time.

 

While Jensen may be primarily known as a director of dark and often surreal comedies like THE GREEN BUTCHERS and MEN & CHICKEN, which also featured Mikkelsen, his writing credits show that he is no stranger to violent lone figures dispensing justice when writing scripts for the likes of Danish western THE SALVATION and the sad case of the failed adaptation of THE DARK TOWER. Somehow, he manages to successfully combine both of these seemingly disparate skillsets in this story of a soldier, Markus, played by Mikkelsen, returning home to avenge the death of his wife in a train explosion when he learns from a survivor of the same accident that it may have actually been a gangland hit executed by the titular motorcycle gang to take out a potential court case witness.

 

That premise taken on its own seems to suggest a fairly straight forward excuse for a revenge film. But with the introduction of Otto, a bearded, bespectacled expert in statistics, feeling massive guilt for causing the death of Markus’s wife’s death by giving up his seat for her on the same train journey, a far more touching and emotional element comes into play here. When Otto’s suspicions are brushed aside by a disinterested police force, he ropes in his computer hacker friends Lennart and the obese Emmenthaler to aid in Markus’s quest for justice. That these two allies also have traumatic issues of their own soon becomes apparent, causing them to unite with their polar opposite in Markus, whose own teenage daughter is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death.

 

All of these elements come together nearly seamlessly here. What could have been a jarring mishmash of thriller, family drama and comedy cohere together to tell a compelling story where the laughs come from the characters naturally before touchingly revealing the emotional traumas of their past. The tone of it all should not work but somehow does. It could be a reflection of the thesis that Otto comes up with to explain the many coincidences and seemingly unconnected incidents in our lives that somehow come together out of nowhere in the blink of an eye to create a life changing incident. One example of which is the scene of a humorous argument that suddenly explodes into an expertly executed and bloody action scene.

 

Mikkelsen proves himself here yet again as one of the most interesting actors working in film today with his deadpan performance of a bearded figure whose choice of lifestyle has closed him off emotionally but an expert in dealing out violence and vengeance. What should be dour and uninteresting is given a spark and tension when played alongside his unlikely teammates, particularly the foul mouthed and perpetually angry Emmenthaler, who surprisingly proves just as proficient in handling firearms as he does in facial recognition software. It is just one surprise among many in what will no doubt be one of the more interesting action films of this year. See it now before the inevitable American remake that will no doubt star Liam Neeson.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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