Directed by: #AndersThomasJensen
A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon rainforest and causes a hurricane to ravage across the United States. Any small event could precipitate disaster, but hypothesising whether a stolen bike indirectly caused her mother’s death only causes Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) to list the potential causes of the tragic train accident on her wall, failing to come to any conclusion. In Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest film, grief and vengeance take centre-stage as Mathilde and her father, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), work through the sudden loss of his wife.
While Mathilde is desperate for psychological support and her turquoise-haired boyfriend, Sirus (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), enthusiastically suggests therapy for the whole family, Markus, a military man, wants nothing more than just to move on. Markus’ immediate reaction is to bury his grief so deep inside himself he becomes a stony grave himself. The only emotion that seeps out is his violent mood swings. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass), a data analyst, was on the same train as Mathilde and her mother and feels partly culpable for her death. He turns up at Markus’s door with two friends claiming that the accident was a terrorist attack caused by the motorbike gang Riders of Justice. Markus is thrilled that he can undertake a quest for vengeance.
Mads Mikkelsen’s Markus hasn’t been home in ages. Always on deployment, he’s missed his daughter growing up, and he doesn’t know her well enough to connect with her. Dismissing her grief, insinuating that she’s overweight, Markus does not exactly make for an easy father to live with. Markus is worlds away from Mads Mikkelsen’s starring role in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt. Here is a man who has sanded down any possible hint of emotion that isn’t blunt violence. Hard-boiled, strict and volatile, Markus isn’t a particularly loveable character, but Mikkelsen’s portrayal of this stoic father winks at John Wick – if John Wick had been repeatedly told that he needs to seek out a therapist.
While Markus barely cracks a smile, the three nerds, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Emmenthaler (Nicholas Bro) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann) are the comic relief. They have a fantastic group dynamic, from the serious Otto to the endearing yet amusing Lennart and the violent but emotionally bruised Emmenthaler. Of course, the inevitable happens, and Mathilde almost twigs onto the group’s elaborate revenge plan. Lennart quickly fabrics an elaborate lie that he is Mathilde’s therapist, neatly creating a multi-layered dynamic. While these three men assist Mathilde through her grieving process and a family is roughly sewn together, they also plan to end Riders of Justice forever.
There’s something in this film’s pace and joviality, which prevents the beats of violence and grief from creating a sense of dissonance. Although there are moments of torture, trauma and train accidents, this pitch-black comedy invites the light in. This is particularly pronounced in Jensen’s use of Danish choral music. This music can seem absurd in scenes of violence, or festive during family mealtime. But this music is most effective when Markus is alone. He has forced himself to traverse through his own grief alone, and he rejects his daughter’s notions of God and the afterlife. This music doesn’t mock his sorrow but reminds the audience that Markus desperately needs community and belief.
Frequently zany and comedically dark, Jensen’s Riders of Justice is also full of soul. Grief is explored in a multi-faceted way rather than a quick group crying session. Mads Mikkelsen may be a standout here, but the whole cast brings a dynamism which creates a perfectly bittersweet story.