Movie review: Horsemen of Justice
At first glance, it looks like Mads Mikkelsen did a Liam Neeson: a character and shades traded for a mad rush from a revenge movie in which a muscular ex-serviceman demands heavy justice for his wife’s death.
It’s not that at all, but the mix of themes and tone is so unexpected that some explanation is needed. The set-up, evident from the trailer, sees Markus (Mikkelsen) on duty in Afghanistan who, he explains to his wife, Emma, during a phone call and without much regrets, was extended by another three months. Later that day, Emma and her daughter Mathilde are on a train when an explosion occurs, killing Emma, who has taken the seat offered to her by another passenger.
The passenger, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), is consumed with guilt but he is also a statistician who, with his genius hacker friend Lennart (Lars Brygmann), concludes that the combination of various factors made it an assassination and not an accident. One of the dead was a tattooed biker about to testify against the Riders of Justice motorcycle gang, while a man who suddenly got off the train was a possible but not final facial recognition match with brother Palle Olesen. from the president of Riders of Justice.
The revenge plot unfolds at full speed with Markus as an alpha male who brings murderous muscles to this society of weirdos, now joined by the overweight and phobic Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), who specializes in facial recognition and computers.
But an increasingly bizarre side plot still derails our expectations of a thriller about Markus becoming a vigilante. Markus, played with the intelligent restraint we expect from Mikkelsen, clearly suffers from PTSD, while Mathilde tries to bridge the distance between her and her father so that they can mourn. When Mathilde overhears the bizarre trio of Otto, Lennart and Emmanthaler plotting with Markus, they lie and claim that they are family counselors there to help with the bereavement and they do their best while revealing – on one occasion particularly shockingly – their own damage.
Riders of Justice starts out as one thing and, while remaining that, becomes something else, an extremely dark but sometimes very funny black comedy about people with mental disorders.
There’s also another weird shutter that ends the movie, involving a man with a white beard and his young niece looking for a bike for her for Christmas. When they find one, it’s red and she has a blue heart. This triggers the theft of a blue bicycle, which belongs to Mathilde and which feeds a chain of events that see her with her mother on the train. That way it becomes a fable about the randomness of fate, how a chain of events can be fortuitous rather than causal, and that while the numbers never lie, they may not lead to the truth.
Purists may find the tonal mix off-putting, but it can also be seen as an unpredictable and interesting piece of Danish cinema that follows Mikkelsen’s equally surprising and diverse journey. Another round.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.