Riders of Justice is a Danish film on Hulu featuring Mads Mikkelsen as Markus, a taciturn and violent military man who returns from the middle east to take care of his teen daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after a train accident kills his wife. When a survivor of the accident named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) arrives at his door claiming that the train crash was actually an assassination involving a biker gang, the Riders of Justice, Markus leaps at the chance for revenge. Otto, a statistician, assembles his ragtag team including chatty hacker Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and cantankerous facial recognition expert Emmenthaler (Nicholas Bro) to help Markus track down the assassin. What follows is the strangest, yet enjoyable, revenge film ever made.
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Statistics and Violence
Otto and Lennart have just been fired after failing to demonstrate the value of their research to funders. They came up with an algorithm showing that statistically, there are no coincidences, and if you work backward, you can find a cause for every event. On his way home, Otto rides an earlier train than usual. He gives his seat up to a woman (Markus’ wife), and notices a scary looking tattooed guy sitting by the door. Across the aisle, a man exits the train, throwing away a full sandwich and smoothie. Seconds later, an explosion rips through the train, killing several people, including Markus’ wife. Using probability theory, Otto becomes convinced that the sandwich guy triggered the explosion to assassinate the tattooed guy, who was a witness in the upcoming trial against the leader of the Riders of Justice gang. The cops blow him off, so Otto goes to Markus, having no idea what he’s about to unleash. Meanwhile, Markus is showing himself to be a man who uses violence, whether emotional or physical, as the solution to any problem. He shows absolutely no emotion at the news that his wife is dead, and he basically tells Mathilde to suck it up. To wit: when Mathilde’s friend tells Markus to take it easy on Mathilde, Markus punches him in the eye.
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If this were an American film, it would be a straightforward, Taken style thriller with a likable lead. But Riders of Justice makes a complete left turn, and combines the revenge thriller with a “misfits-become-a-family” story. Otto and his team set up shop in Markus’ barn, providing intel on the gang members, but only after Markus promises to teach them how to shoot, which leads to a hilarious scene of the computer nerds learning to assemble assault rifles. Otto is a gentle yet insistent man, dedicated to the principles of statistics. Lennart, a true genius with limited social skills, has had plenty of childhood trauma, and boasts that he’s had 4,000 hours of therapy. Emmenthaler, who for whatever reason is named after a cheese, is a tetchy genius with a hare trigger and an eyebrow-raising vocabulary. He’s excited for weapons training, because he has been bullied all of his life. When they arrive at the assassin’s house, these three are shocked by Markus’ sudden and efficient use of violence, and spend the rest of the film trying to talk him into getting therapy. Markus was most likely in the special forces, although it’s never mentioned, because he is fearless and skilled with both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry. He has no qualms about kicking the bear that is the Riders of Justice gang, which of course comes back ten-fold.
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Our take on Riders of Justice
I’m not going to lie, this is an odd film. And I think either Mads Mikkelsen was miscast, or his character could have been written better. As it is, Markus is unlikable and two-dimensional, with no explanation for his damage. It’s a little hard to swallow. I love Scandinavian humor, and I’m always a fan of “motley-crew” stories, so those were pleasant, if unexpected, additions to the revenge tale. And there is a twist midway through that calls into question the “no coincidences” theory, which shakes Otto and his group to the core. With the exception of Markus, I enjoyed spending time with these misfits, who are joined by a sweet Ukranian sex-worker (Gustav Lindh) that they rescue. Although the marketing focuses on Mikkelsen, fans of foreign TV will recognize the rest of the cast as top-notch Danish actors, and they do an excellent job, especially Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who plays against type. If you don’t mind the mashup of two very different types of films, and/or you are used to quirky Scandinavian comedies, Riders of Justice is for you.
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