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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    RIDERS OF JUSTICE (Anders Thomas Jensen 2020)



    The logic of revenge

    Riders of Justice is Mads Mikkelsen's fourth film with the Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen and it's been described "as a pitch-black comedy thriller in the early Coen brothers mode." Except the Coen brothers didn't really have such a "mode," they just made Blood Simple and twelve years later made Fargo. Jensen's film entertains, but it doesn't fit so well with either of those early Coen classics as it does with the recent violent (and amusing) Norwegian comedy, In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland 2016). The tidy series of revenge and gang war murders in the latter, however, is more satisfying, and less disturbing. Riders of Justice has a greater quantity of random violence, confusion, intellectual pretension and chooses to delve freely into the laws of cause and effect and the randomness of events.

    Riders starts when a new bike is stolen belonging to a teenage girl called Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). She and her mother take the train. A man called Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a statistical analyst who's just been fired, gives his seat to the girl's mother. The train car explodes in a violent accident and the mother is killed, but Otto survives, as does Mathilde. Far away in Afghanistan (or somewhere) a veteran soldier, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen, with a beard and a look of doom) is recalled from service to take care of Mathilde.

    Otto, being a specialist in probability, already doubts the likelihood that this train crash was an accident, and he at once calls in his two nerdy cohorts Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), who put their heads together to take apart all the information related to the event. Trained in tracing chains of cause and effect, they don't really think in terms of random events. Since the key witness in the trial of a criminal biker gang just about to happen was killed on the train, they conclude the crash was a carefully orchestrated assassination and Markus' wife and Mathilde's mother collateral damage. They proceed to gather all the data about the gang they can, and both nerdy cohorts, especially Emmenthaler - a giant whale of a man who turns out to be a natural whiz with assembling and firing an automatic weapon ("I like to put things together"), delve far deeper than what the internet and other common sources can provide. They approach Markus with their findings convinced he will be interested in getting back at the people who caused his wife's death. He is. But he tends to do harm closer to home as well, to them, and to the disturbed Mathilde's psyche.

    Nerdy analyses of data and theories about order in a chaos-driven world are unusual material for a comedy thriller. Part of the humor comes from the fact that Lennert, as well as Mathhilde's blue-haired young boyfriend and the Ukrainian Bodashka (Gustav Lindh), an au pair boy (or is he a victimized refugee?), all understand the softer side of man and the need for grief counselling, while Markus has only three tools, beer, cigarettes, and his fists. He is clearly as deeply traumatized by his wife's death as Mathhilde, but he is constitutionally incapable of admitting it, and just keeps punching people out. And yet a kind of camaraderie develops among all the principals, which gives the movie warmth even when it is peppered with random bodies in chaotic ways that the orderly (the title says so) In Order of Disappearance never allows. I hope I'm not giving away too much to reveal the reassuring news that at film's end, all the main characters are still on hand in one piece for the exchange of Christmas presents. And this outing is just icing on the cake (and there is a cake) of a year where Mads Mikkelsen received global accolades for a virtuoso lead performance as a drunken high school teacher in Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round, which won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

    Riders of Justice/Retfærdighedens ryttere, 116 mins., oddly, came out on DVD in Mexico May 1, 2020 and opened in Danish cinemas Nov. 19, 2020 before its film festival debut at Rotterdam Feb. 1, 2021, then showing at Glasgow, Luxembourg City and Seattle. Its US virtual release date is May 21, 2021; May 14 theatrical release at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley. Landmark's Embarcadero Cinemas, San Francisco. For a detailed discussion of its humor and philosophy, see Digital Mafia Talkies.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2021 at 07:17 PM.


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