A revenge thriller that combines deadpan humour and violence will inevitably evoke the Coen brothers, while the dynamic of a scarred older man and a young girl on a revenge mission has its precursors in films such as Kiss-Ass and Léon (that the young girl is also called Mathilde is surely no coincidence in a film whose plot is founded on the belief that there are no coincidences).
But Riders of Justice is very much in a category of its own, not just because of the Danish setting or the zeitgeisty references to AI but because of the emotionally rich ensemble of supporting characters, some of whom who appear to have wandered in from a cult TV sitcom – somewhere between Spaced and a downbeat Big Bang Theory. As the lead, Mads Mikkelsen manages to be both convincing as a vengeful action hero while undermining the very concept through his ugly violence.
It’s worth noting that Riders of Justice opened in Denmark on the same weekend as Another Round, in which Mikkelsen played a very different man lost in the world. While Thomas Vinterberg’s film earned the international plaudits, including an Oscar and BAFTA, it was Jensen’s that did the better box-office numbers domestically, at least to begin with, providing escapist relief during lockdown.
That the film didn’t translate to international success probably owed something to the conventionality of its story, but this is to under-estimate just how cleverly it exploits the tropes of the revenge-thriller genre while never lapsing into parody or giving way to cheap slapstick.
“It’s hard to imagine the improvisatory, digressive, character-focused filmmaker Mike Leigh (“Secrets and Lies”) making a revenge thriller, but if he did, it might look like this. Sometimes the tangents are so out-of-nowhere, and are developed in such detail, that you and the characters sorta forget about the vengeance thing, which is the entire point.” Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com