If Spec Ops: The Line is a brilliant deconstruction of protagonist syndrome, then I’m inclined to say “Riders of Justice” is both a brilliant deconstruction of the revenge thriller and a deeply poignant deconstruction of trauma…..or at least a solid attempt at doing so.
Before I explain that bit, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Mads Mikkelsen. Starstuck, hilarious, terrifying and poignant all at once, this was one of the best performances I’ve seen from him in a long time; a perfect UNO reversal card to wipe the taste out my mouth after being wasted in Chaos Walking. Other cast members are about as impactful as him.
The morally questionable characters they portray are just as enticing as Captain Martin Walker himself; walking that fine line between being too comedic to be broken or being too shattered to convey a hilarious response. Even as stereotypical as they come across, my perception on them all was shattered about halfway through.
In these circumstances, these characters may not fit alongside one another but director Anders Thomas Jensen has a clear grasp ahold of the characters inner turmoils and the juxtaposition of moods and genre, allowing his direction to truly blossom amongst the drear atmosphere and production design. Circumstances aside, we learn a lot about his style and how well it clashes with these series of events.
Most of the characters here are given backstories that delve into the films topics about fate, chance, karma and justice amongst other things while the movie, as a whole, delves past following a legend on Ukrainian coincidences, questioning if life can be mathematically predicted, or if coincidences are simply that. How grief affects mental heath, how it's hard to accept that sometimes things are out of our control and there is no one to blame, how the pain of losing people can destroy families and the limits of human perception, these are just some of the themes explored in a novel, poetic manner. It also understands that the most difficult of tragedies to process are sometimes the ones with no one to blame, using its own medium to manipulate our perception of events and toy with our emotions.
With the film being about so much, the tone inherits a sense of whiplash because it varies so quickly and yet it somehow blends into the seamlessly ever-changing landscape so well, I hardly noticed it. And on top of that, the pacing of the scenes never felt forced or out of place with said tone, boasting sturdy cinematography and editing to boot.
Now I say it’s more or less a solid attempt at deconstructing the revenge thriller and a full-blown success of it because of just ONE THING: the ending. I mean, it ends nicely with everyone either recovering or slowly getting to that point of recovery but I think it would’ve hit me a little better if there was no final shootout and we let the revelation take time to bubble and broil through the characters; let the peace and quiet essentially drill in what they’ve learned and have it pay off without having to resort to yet another shootout.
Maybe that’s just me, though.
A basic looking revenge story on the surface, the film doesn’t limit itself to just what it promises but quickly delves deeper to the source, offering a humorous, poignant & refreshing story on reminiscence and blame in the zaniest of ways. Entertaining and cathartic, it’s another win for Mads (as he’s yet another to go on my best actors of the year list) and another win for this…..admittedly uneven year for films.