IFFR 2021 review: Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen)

Can you predict coincidence, and if you think you can, how do you account for confirmation bias? Intriguing questions for a data analyst, no doubt, but as a key element of Anders Thomas Jensen’s fifth feature Riders of Justice it is a lot less interesting. Labeled as a dark comedy, Jensen’s film is so tonally all over the place that the real drama that develops on the back of these intriguing questions drowns in weak humor and a flood of unnecessary supporting characters. Not even a strong central performance by Mads Mikkelsen (his stoic Markus a stark contrast to his inebriated teacher in Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round from late last year) can save the film from being so overwritten that his character is sidelined for large portions of the film.

When a horrific train accident takes the life of his wife, Markus (Mikkelsen), a marine stationed in the Middle East, has to come home to take care of his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). Father and daughter both live through their grief differently, leading to an emotional clash. Then one day two men show up on Markus’ doorstep, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Lennart (Lars Brygmann), two data scientists. Otto is a survivor of the train crash who believes the accident was actually a planned attack, as one of the other victims was a member of a violent biker gang (which gives the film its title) who was about to testify against the gang’s leader Kurt (Roland Møller) in a murder case. Through hacking and collecting data about this Eagle, their analysis points to his OCD routines and to Kurt’s brother having followed him. Convinced this was all a setup, the professional soldier and two socially awkward analysts set out on a path of revenge, aided by a third data cruncher, Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro). And all the while Markus has Mathilde to deal with, whose outcry for a shared grief falls on deaf ears with her father.

What plagues Riders of Justice most is that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Wildly swinging from crime thriller to dark comedy to family drama, the film never manages to set a single tone. Mikkelsen plays his angel of justice with a straight face and an impressive beard, restricting emotions to just his eyes. His companions on the mission to bring down the biker gang, however, mostly play the roles of three stooges thrown in for comic relief, and the balance between the two is completely lost. When you throw in Mathilde’s mourning process to provide the film with an emotional anchor by having her connect to not just one, but two boys, the film starts to balloon from plotlines that crowd each other out and a cast of characters that becomes convolutedly interconnected. Some truly misguided comedy about anal rape and fat shaming confirms the fact that a couple of screenplay revisions would have been a good idea.

The sorest thumb that sticks out is probably the comedy angle, which is baffling since this is presented as a comedy. Had Riders of Justice been a straightforward revenge film focusing more on the father/daughter relationship for emotional heft, it might not have set the screen on fire, but it would have been a much tighter film making better use of Mikkelsen’s considerable talent and giving the strong Gadeberg more opportunity to shine. The early scenes of the film hint at an interesting juxtaposition: Otto thinks he can statistically prove something was off about the accident, and Mathilde just feels something was off. This path of statistics versus intuition is never explored, and the ending in fact completely negates this idea. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, and unfortunately sometimes a bad film is just a bad film.