The Screen Scene: Riders of Justice

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

The Screen Scene (WRBL) – Mads Mikkelsen is one of the most interesting actors working today. From his portrayal of an iconic villain in NBC’s adaptation of Hannibal to his work in the Danish films of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, Another Round), Mikkelsen has established himself as an actor who consistently gives interesting performances in films that are worth his efforts. No paycheck films to be found in his filmography.

Riders of Justice continues Mikkelsen’s big screen hot streak. He plays Markus, a Danish soldier who is far more comfortable under fire from enemy combatants than he is in his home life. When his wife is killed in a train accident, Markus is sent home by the military to grieve and tend to his daughter. As he tries to wrap his head around his sudden loss, a survivor from the crash arrives on his doorstep to tell Markus that the train accident may not be an accident after all.

The film is a Scandinavian variation on the American revenge thriller. It will most likely be compared to Taken and other Liam Neeson vehicles, but Riders of Justice is smarter and thematically deeper than silly action films like the Taken franchise. Riders of Justice has a dark streak running through its center that you rarely find in American thrillers. Our audiences tend to like their heroes virtuous, honorable, above reproach. In this film, Markus’ mission of revenge has
a bloodthirsty quality to it as if he can only express his grief through violence. Anger management issues would be putting it mildly.

Riders of Justice lives in its lack of certainty. The entire film is one big moral gray area. Was a shady biker gang really behind the train accident that killed Markus’ wife? Or is it simply a case of bad things sometimes happen to good people? Riders keeps us guessing until the final act of the film. American revenge films rarely have the guts to employ such story-telling techniques. We usually need a righteous protagonist to invest in the mayhem unfolding on the screen.

The screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen is a brilliant blend of tones. Action and crime plot beats blend seamlessly with its dark absurdist Danish sense of humor. You’ll find yourself laughing and then wondering if your laughter was inappropriate. It probably was, but it was funny nonetheless. Jensen’s characters feel like real human beings – angry one minute, funny and relatable the next.

I watch some films purely because of who is involved in the project. New film from Paul Thomas Anderson? I’m there. No need to tell me what it’s about. New film from Jordan Peele? Same result. I refer to these movies as “pedigree films”. If a project has the right mix of talent, I want to see it and nothing will change my mind. Mads Mikkelsen has quickly become one of these talents. Riders of Justice is not to be missed. Now we need to find Mikkelsen some English language leading roles.

Riders of Justice is playing in select theaters and hits VOD on May 21st. If you’re interested in other Danish films starring Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round is currently streaming on Hulu, and The Hunt can be found on Vudu, Hoopla and Kanopy. Both films are also available on most digital rental platforms.

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