Though likely to be labeled a revenge movie, “Riders of Justice” proves deeper and more entertaining than that as its trauma-plagued characters lash out vengefully and violently as they try to find meaning in a senseless train crash.
Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (“Adam’s Apple”) combines a caper flick, a Coen-esque mix of oddball characters and brutal violence, and a droll screwball comedy in what might be described as a big entertaining Danish Hollywood movie. It opens this week in theaters and streams starting May 21.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Markus, a bearded, war-traumatized overseas-stationed soldier who returns home after his wife dies in a train crash, to be with his teen daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), who survived the incident.
An emotional zombie unable to provide Mathilde with TLC, Markus deals with grief and anger violently, at one point slugging Mathilde’s well-meaning boyfriend (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt).
The action takes off when Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a numbers-obsessed statistician who was also on the train, and gave up his seat to Mathilde’s mother, who would still be alive if that hadn’t happened, visits Markus, accompanied by colleague and fellow misfit Lennart (Lars Brygmann).
The pair, who specialize in probabilities data, inform Markus that they believe the crash, which was ruled an accident, was a deliberate act designed to kill a witness scheduled to testify against a criminal biker gang. Their argument convinces Markus. He tells them he wants to avenge his wife’s death by going after the guilty parties. He’ll take care of the weapons and violence.
With even more eccentric cohort Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a sensitive hacker, now aboard, the men plan and execute their mission.
One catch: Mathilde must not know what her father is up to. When the girl mistakes her dad’s new pals for grief counselors, the men play along with the deception.
Jensen presents the violent action adeptly, but the scenes go on for too long. During these passages, the movie suggests an entertaining empty Hollywood revenge film.
It’s never entirely soulless, though, and Jensen includes plenty of substance and feeling in this movie, which, like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Promising Young Woman,” finds sadness as well as humor in the story of a wounded soul dealing with loss and tragedy in vengeful, wrongheaded ways.
The movie is also about coming to terms with the meaninglessness of life’s realities, and, most movingly, as the characters form a makeshift family, it is about how human connection assists healing.
A scene in which the characters exchange Christmas gifts makes for a wonderful, warmhearted ending.
Mikkelsen is formable in badass mode, and even better when subtly conveying suppressed anger and pain on Markus’ near-emotionless face.
Supporting characters, nearly all with trauma in their past, also are key to the movie’s winning nature.
Most memorable are Kaas’ guilt-harboring Otto and Bro’s brilliant but barely functional Emmenthaler, who supplies both comic relief and unexpected poignancy.
Riders of Justice
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann
Written and directed by: Anders Thomas Jensen
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
A man named David stands over a sleeping couple — soon revealed to be his estranged wife and her new boyfriend — with a loaded gun aimed at the pair before a nearby bathroom sound jars him into escaping out the window in the knockout opening scene of “The Killing of Two Lovers.” The suspense, along with a resonant humanity, continues throughout this small but searing psycho-thriller and the solo feature debut of writer-director Robert Machoian.
The plot of the film, which opens in theaters Friday, is spare.
David (Clayne Crawford) and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) got married straight after high school and had four children, including a now teen daughter (Avery Pizzuto), without experiencing the world at large. Now, during a separation period, Nikki’s involvement with Derek (Chris Coy) has changed the dynamic, causing David to unravel.
While David, who’s moved in with his comic-relief-providing father (Bruce Graham), has believed that he and Nikki will reconcile, Nikki inadvertently reveals that she may feel differently. Her remark torments David, who cannot cope with the thought of losing his family.
The David character is developed more deeply and presented more sympathetically than Nikki, which is frustrating as it prevents the movie from succeeding as a “Marriage Story”-like relationship drama.
Basically, it is David’s story. Still, it turns out to be a satisfying deal: The film is a compelling psychodrama about love, family, fatherhood and masculinity.
Machoian’s storytelling is taut and tense. The characters are so real they could be people you know. Even the explosive climax has a down-to-earth appeal.
Crawford, leading an excellent cast, creates a scary yet richly human portrait of a decent man who, unable to contain his rage, might do something terrible.
A longtime photographer, Machoian uses wide shots, long takes and still frames to involve viewers in David’s everyday activities, while a boxy picture format conveys the pressure-cooker quality of David’s situation.
The Killing of Two Lovers
Starring: Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto
Written and directed by: Robert Machoian
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes