Riders of Justice: Genre-bending action delving into toxic masculinity

Mads Mikkelsen, Lars Brygmann and Andrea Heick Gadeberg in the genre-bending Danish action/thriller Riders of Justice, which challenges toxic masculinity

Riders of Justice
Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann
In Danish with English subtitles
In cinemas September 30

Are you weary of violent action/thrillers where an emotionally constricted man is narratively granted the dispensation to enact revengeful ultra-violence against a group of baddies? It generally begins with the baddies killing his wife or otherwise violating his family’s sanctity.

The unfortunate news for you is that Riders of Justice is based on exactly that premise, complete with bullets flying everywhere. The good news is that it is refreshingly different to the run-of-the-mill version of this genre.

It is a darkly comedic yet deeply insightful study of complex nuances of masculinity, set in tone-perfect contrast to the shoot-‘em-up action roller-coaster.

The film begins with world-weary professional soldier, Markus, who is recalled from Afghanistan when his wife dies in a train accident. His already fraught relationship with his teenage daughter, Mathilde is not helped by his inability to listen to her or express his own grief.

Mads Mikkelsen is Markus, the tough-guy, who never smiles, but manages to convey a full gamut of emotions.

He gets drawn into a group of computer nerds who convince him that, based on an eye-witness account and their own research, the outlaw motorcycle gang, the Riders of Justice, is responsible for his wife’s death.

Having a violent outlet for his pain works as an alternative to psychological therapy for Markus. Jokes about therapy abound in the sometimes poignant, sometimes absurdist segments, where causes of male anguish and the roots of the violence are explored.

It is these moments of sometimes horrifying glimpses into past traumas that propel the film to transcend its genre. Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen clearly sought to dig deep in this film, while not breaking with the thriller style.

Markus and his gang of misfits see themselves as knights enacting justice, as they project their woundedness onto reality.

Jensen’s ability to hold these disparate elements together with compassion and humour is quite startling. He says the “core of the story is pretty dark and serious. The underlying theme is quite monumental … It has to be communicated with humour, otherwise it is hard to cope with the gravity of it".

Jensen has worked with this same team of actors on several other films and they have honed their ensemble performance skillfully. Andrea Heick Gadeberg, as Mathilde, in what is only her second major film, holds her own alongside them.

The trailer for Riders of Justice can be seen here.