Riders of Justice
People often wonder why Hollywood films feel so formulaic. One chief reason could be that studios, and even some filmmakers, are petrified by the prospect of tonal clash – the possibility that one idea won’t gel with another – so instead they make movies that tow a very generic line. Be it horror or comedy, most clichés and conventions are fulfilled, creating a wholly predictable affair that won’t ever lift the audience from its comfort zone. European cinema, however, often doesn’t abide by the same staleness. In the case of this atypical action-comedy-drama blend, Riders of Justice, Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen pulverises genre conformity with his offbeat sensibilities.
This isn’t to say the Jensen flippantly breaks the rules purely for subversion’s sake. There’s a definite purity and confidence to his offbeat genre bending, giving the picture an unpredictable originality that intrigues, even if it isn’t grippingly revolutionary or even successful. It’s the director’s fifth collaboration with Mads Mikkelsen – unrecognisable and frightening as the volatile soldier Markus, who must hunt down the criminals responsible for his wife’s death while healing his relationship with his estranged daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). This seemingly pitiful log-line may read like Mikkelsen’s attempt to be the Danish Liam Neeson, but Jensen’s storm of a script offers some actual depth to the domestic drama at hand, while he throws in sporadic bursts of gunfire action, lashings of awkward comedy and most uniquely, some painful irony disguised as Yuletide whimsy. These elements might not always sound compatible with each other, and truthfully, they’re not. There’s an imbalance between them, and the feature sometimes forgets where its story priorities lie.
Thanks to Mikkelsen’s dangerous performance, the film shines most when it sticks with its promise to be a gritty character study, but loses its grip on this immediately whenever there is comedy involved. Lennart (Lars Brygmann) is a scene stealer in all the wrong ways, in that his awkward behaviour nullifies the serious stuff. For example, in one scene, he decides to pontificate his psychiatric knowledge to an already-annoyed Markus, but why the character would knowingly decide to agitate a boarderline psychopath who can kill with his bare hands is anyone’s guess. There is no logic to Lennart’s actions here; it’s just an excuse for some goofy humour that ultimately doesn’t pay off. Riders of Justice is worth a watch for its inventiveness and bravery in challenging the genre spectrum, but just be prepared for some unwelcome tonal whiplash effects.
Riders of Justice is released nationwide on 23rd July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Riders of Justice here: