Every day we’re faced with hundreds of small decisions. Things as simple as where we want to eat lunch to big decisions about relationships, jobs and where to live. Each of these decisions have a ripple in our own lives, but it’s easy to forget that we live in an inter-connected world. The decision we make not only impacts us, but potentially people half a world away.
That’s a big concept to tackle, but it sits at the heart of the new drama Riders of Justice, which opens in theaters today and launches on VOD on May 21. The film tackles that idea in an introduction and coda that book end a story that will remind people of the Taken franchise. All of it fuses together into something engaging and powerful. That’s a credit to director Anders Thomas Jensen, who came up with the original idea alongside Nikolaj Arcel and wrote the screenplay for the film.
It’s also a credit to leading man Mads Mikkelsen, who is one of the best and most under-rated actors working today. This film, which is Danish with English subtitles, centers on Markus (Mikkelsen), a soldier deployed and away from his family. The separation is a lot for Markus and his wife, taking a toll on his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). When his wife is killed in a train accident, Markus returns home to deal with the fall out.
Markus is a ball of rage, unable to channel his grief and unable to show weakness. This causes a rift between him and his daughter, who pushes him to find a way to cope. Soon Markus receives a visit from a fellow passenger, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a mathematician obsessed with statistics. Otto believes it wasn’t an accident and launches a search to find the responsible party along with Markus and two friends, Lenhart (Lars Brygmann) and Ementhaler (Nicolas Bro).
Together the group stumbles onto what looks like a conspiracy, and Markus’ rage leads him to action which threatens the group and his family.
Mikkelsen is a gifted actor who is masterful at conveying a range of emotions through his mannerisms and facial expressions. Markus is a character who keeps his emotions bottled up, but Mikkelsen is able to easily convey what Markus is feeling through his performance. Equally as powerful is Kaas, whose character is driven by the dual grief of a mistake from his past and what he perceives of as a mistake the day of the accident. They react in opposite ways, but oddly both need each other to find peace and move forward.
This is, at times, a strange story. And yet, it is consistently compelling. What makes it great is the way it circles back to an introductory story about a little girl, her grandfather and the bicycle she wants for Christmas. I had nearly forgotten the exchange after all that happened, but a coda sets it in a new perspective that was incredibly powerful and moving.
We all deal with grief differently and we all want someone or some thing to blame. Life doesn’t always work that way, and Jensen’s beautiful story brings that home in a powerful and engaging package. This is one of my favorite films of 2021 so far and one well worth seeking out.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.