GFF 2021: Riders of Justice
If Taken featured scenes of screwball comedy and tender male bonding, it might look a bit like Riders of Justice, which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a soldier out for revenge after the death of his wife
Mads Mikkelsen’s face is at once fierce and compassionate. Even hidden behind the massive beard he wears in Riders of Justice, his clenched jawline, brittle smile and dark eyes suggest both the kindness and the killer instinct of the father/soldier he plays. It’s easy to see why writer-director Jensen repeatedly casts the actor (this is their fifth time working together): his films have a similar duality, adroitly alternating from vicious to heartfelt in the blink of an eye.
A young Estonian girl’s Christmas wish appears to set off a chain of events that leads to the accidental death of Emma, leaving her squaddie husband Markus (Mikkelsen) to return home from combat to care for their teenage daughter. The randomness of the tragedy sends father and daughter into freefall, but the revelation by a trio of bickering boffins that Emma was merely the collateral damage of an assassination by a local biker gang switches Markus into action. Grief doesn’t come easy, but violent retribution is his jam.
What follows suggests a collaboration between Charles Bronson and the Three Stooges, undercut with a surprising quota of tenderness. Much of the comedy emanates from these men’s various mental issues, which range from an unhealthy fixation with screen resolution to deeply repressed rage, which would be problematic if not for Jensen’s healthy focus on healing through companionship. A kind of Hawksian family unit forms, reinforced by the addition of a Ukrainian rent boy to the gang who takes on the Walter Brennan caregiver role.
A braver, more honest film might have insisted on a bitter note to Markus’s crusade, but Jensen loves his damaged ensemble too much to follow through on any real-world consequences. It’s hard to blame him: you’ll love them too.
Riders of Justice has its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival, screening 26 Feb to 1 Mar – tickets here