In the original info I got on this film, it stated that it would come out on May 21st. But I see it’s playing at the Angelika Film Center starting today, and you should see it. Today. Or tomorrow. Don’t wait long, because a movie with a Danish cast probably won’t draw big crowds and this may be gone in a week. That’s a shame, because it’s going to be on my list of best movies of the year.
Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers, Daniel) has put together a dark comedy that is more than just the revenge thriller I thought it would be. It’s the type of movie I wish the Coen brothers still knew how to make. It’s the type of movie I wish Liam Neeson would make, instead of simply shooting all the bad guys while muttering tough guy phrases, or reminding us he has a special set of skills. This movie has heart, humor, sadness, and…well…who doesn’t like seeing scummy bad guys getting their comeuppance?
Markus is played by Mads Mikkelsen, who got more attention this year for the Oscar nominated Another Round (which was disappointing). Find his movie The Hunt — one of the best movies ever made.
When Markus tells his wife he’s going to be another month in Afghanistan, she’s not happy. She takes their teen daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), and they go off to have some fun. An explosion on their train kills the mom, and Markus returns to take care of their daughter. There’s tension between them, and it’s all written brilliantly. So many filmmakers screw up how those things are done. For example, they’ll make the kid snotty or pretentious, to the point of us not really liking them. In this, we really feel for Mathilde, and she is justified in some of the anger she has towards her dad. She also realizes how flawed he is as a person.
A statistician named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) was on the train, and he does a bit of research. He finds out that a witness to a big crime was on the train. His death kept him from testifying against a biker gang, which keeps the case from going to court. He believes footage shows someone leaving a bomb under that guy’s seat, causing the explosion. And again, where other filmmakers would blow it — they’d have Bruce Willis or Liam, grab an Uzi and just go to town on the bad guys. Markus asks, “Why not take this information to the police?”
And then when he does eventually approach the biker gang, he’s the one who gets a gun shoved in his face. You start to wonder if this rag-tag group of goofballs that are working with Markus, are going to be the ones picked off.
There are a lot of interesting coincidences that lead to various things happening. It becomes a “butterfly effect” thing, and some of those elements also make this more interesting than the usual revenge thriller. The characters even engage in interesting philosophical discussions on the meaning of life, the existence of evil, and the presence (or absence) of a higher power. Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t get pumped up when we do watch the revenge take place (come on, that’s not a spoiler; you knew it was coming).
The film also surprises us with a lot of heart as it reveals the tragedy and trauma in these people’s lives. Just as young Mathilde wants her dad to get therapy, we want this group to perhaps get some help instead of getting some guns. And that puts you on the edge of your seat even more, and makes you root for the bonding of this group to continue.
This makeshift family of misfits is a blast to watch. This is the type of film that I can show people when they ask why I wasn’t such a big fan of John Wick, or the recent Nobody. It’s because I wanted those movies to be done more like this one — with a touch of humor and humanity, as well as bullets flying.
Watching this, there were moments when I was reminded of Unforgiven, Broken Circle Breakdown, and Pulp Fiction. Those are some of the best movies ever made, and this is one of the best movies of the year.
And, instead of everyone debating whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie…watch this movie (which is better than Die Hard). It starts with Christmas music, and ends on a Christmas day. Let’s start debating if Riders of Justice is a Christmas movie.
4 stars out of 5.