Despite being in colossal blockbusters, including the upcoming reboot of Indiana Jones and fourth Fantastic Beasts film, Mads Mikkelsen is at his best in Danish independent films. This rings true in his latest venture, Riders of Justice (though it might not be fair to call it an indie film.) In it, Mikkelsen plays your standard grieving dad and husband, forced to take care of his teenaged daughter when his wife is killed in a horrific train accident. While this seems like your tough action thriller, think again. Writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen smartly uses the ever stoic, never smiling Mikkselsen as the straight man in the philosophical action comedy you didn’t know you needed.
A stolen bike leads to a train accident which leads a revenge spree killing. Cause and effect are heavily examined in Riders of Justice, where Mikkelsen’s character, a military man, is forced to return home after the death of his wife. Struggling to connect with his daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) due to his inability to face his emotions, Markus’s whole world is turned upside down when one of the survivors of the train explosion, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a recently fired data scientist along with his erratic former college Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and a easily skittish computer hacker Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), show up at his doorstep claiming the train accident was no accident after all. Though the odd quadrouple certainly goes on their revenge spree, the plot switches between family dramedy and therapy session. Think Three Men and a Baby meets Die Hard.
Essentially, it’s Mads Mikkelsen running around Denmark with three nerds. They have plenty of emotional intelligence and no braun while Markus is emotionally inept and full of rage. What makes the film work so well is Mikkelsen’s dedication to playing the straight man in his own action movie. If he faltered for even a second, Riders of Justice wouldn’t work.
As a writer, Anders Thomas Jensen, is known in America for writing the original Danish source material for a lot of English remakes, including Brothers and After the Wedding. He has worked with Mikkesen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas numerous times as both a screenwriter and director, which benefits his most recent film, as the script plays to everyone’s strengths. If Riders of Justice ever gets an English remake, rest assured Flight of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, I, Tonya’s Paul Walter Hauser, and Ready Player One’s Mark Rylance would totally play the nerds based on their characters’ looks alone (Mikkelsen would of course reprise his role because this role is perfect for him).
There are a few kinks in the film’s armor though. Despite all it has going for it, Riders of Justice struggles with slow pacing. Thirty minutes could easily have been cut and the film still wouldn’t have lost any of its magic. Every joke doesn’t necessarily land (there’s some weird fat jokes riddled throughout) and some of the characterizations among the supporting cast take a minute to swallow for an American audience. However, eventually the smart dialogue and clever plot start to charm your pants off.
Overall Riders of Justice is a surprisingly delightful and smart action comedy that that the makings of a classic.
Riders of Justice premieres in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and everywhere else May 21st. Watch the trailer below.