Madds Mikkelsen has become an interpreter of international scope who has participated in the Bond saga, in the film universes of Marvel or Star Wars, and who has played the very popular cannibal doctor Lecter of The silence of the lambs in the tv series Hannibal. Despite these Hollywood escapades, the Danish actor continues to have one foot in the cinema of his country, in productions signed by Thomas Vinterberg or Anders Thomas Jensen. The latter is the main responsible for Horsemen of justice: a very atypical mix of tones and genres that, from a playful spirit, challenges the audience. On the way, he sticks his finger in a sore.
‘The lives of others’: the death penalty as the poison of an entire society
The film begins with the firing of Otto, a professional statistician with somewhat eccentric companies and interests. Back home, he gives his seat to a woman. Soon after, the wagon collides with a stopped convoy, she dies and he survives. As he learns more details of the alleged accident, and especially when he discovers that a witness for the prosecution of a criminal gang (the Horsemen of Justice who gives the film its title) has also died, he considers the event to be too unlikely as to be truly accidental.
The narrative takes a turn when Otto contacts Markus, the woman’s widower, played by Mikkelsen. This emotionally blocked soldier is managing his loss through beer drinking and awkward, unwelcome conversations with his teenage daughter. After speaking with Otto, he sees the opportunity to carry the duel through revenge. And it will count on the contributions of the statistician and his friends, who seem to be drawn from a middle-aged, more acidic and decadent version of The Big Bang Theory.
Accustomed to using picturesque situations and characters to generate a certain perplexity and dark comics, Jensen mixes film genres. Without neglecting an evident recreational spirit, he proposes an artifact with some uncomfortable edges, healthily challenging. The director and screenwriter approaches the thriller of revenge, but populates its narrative world with unusual characters when these films tend to limit themselves and retreat into their own conventions. Not only do the geeks that serve as tragicomic secondary characters: the protagonist’s daughter, who is unaware of the group’s actions, serves as an anchor that occasionally brings the film closer to the realm of daily coexistence with loss, without shooting or hand-to-hand fighting.
An emotional block that is broken by shots
Stories of violent revenge are a rich tradition in Hollywood and beyond (from Greco-Latin theatrical classics to current South Korean audiovisual production). Popular works at the time like the saga The vigilante of the city, played by Charles Bronson and reinterpreted in a remake recent work by Bruce Willis, testify to the enduring popularity of this trend, which has sparked so many prestigious proposals (Taxi driver, for example) as modest productions destined for the videographic market or the insatiable desire for novelties of the platforms of streaming.
In recent years, relevant contributions to the audiovisual tradition have been released vengeful. John wick was an artistically fortunate reformulation of the narratives about talented hitmen in retirement or on a last mission: the desire to avenge the death of his dog and the theft of his car impel him to once again show his high capacities in the task of killing. The film’s authors opted for an ironic look, one step away from self-parody, but this initially vague tone was being channeled towards remitification (joke, but cool) of the protagonist. In Horsemen of justiceOn the other hand, this indeterminacy, which can be healthy, is not abandoned.
The recent thriller of action Nobody, about a father of a family who needed to give way to his talents as a former state assassin after years of excessive marital and work peace, or Joker, which portrayed a frustrated and upset man in his particular day of fury, they told us about outbreaks of extreme violence as a way of conveying the passions and energies of a supposedly humiliated masculinity. Both films, each one in its most fallas or more sordid way, acquired dark connotations that can be connected with the discourses of anger and disappointment of the men who feel displaced from the center of society. In parallel, this appeal to low instincts has also generated thrillers of revenge clad in empowering fantasy, like Kill or die, with Jennifer Gardner in charge of self-administering justice allegedly feminist.
Jensen and company, on the other hand, pay more attention to the emotional blocks of men who do not know or do not want to explain themselves. In Horsemen of justiceMarkus hides behind hyper-rationalism and pragmatism with an air of military discipline so as not to have to talk about his loss. And he places himself in an extreme scenario that serves as a dangerous loophole through which to get around the grieving process. Otto and his friends, meanwhile, embody other ways of perceiving these murderous revenge fantasies. They range from the frontal rejection of violence to the fascination that crumbles when it comes time to pull the trigger, to look at people who bleed and beg for mercy before being executed.
The path proposed by those responsible for the work is interesting, suggestive. You can go from the perplexed smile about the miseries of the most comical characters to the dejection before the images of violence. Everything closes in a somewhat complacent way: a happy ending that may be consistent with a Christmas story narrative framework but has something false. Can remember the stranger happy end The one Clint Eastwood had to crown with Imminent execution. But leaving aside that ending, Jensen’s work can be associated with a certain cruel tradition, with misanthropic overtones, exemplified in a few films by the Coens, Tarantinos, Guy Ritchie or Matthew Vaughn. Although Jensen reminds us that it is not necessary to banish the human factor from the equation of postmodern and darkly comedic entertainment.
Horsemen of justice shows that dark comedy can incorporate oscillating doses of rare cuteness. That a carnival of oddities, at times sitcom and at times an action movie, it can incorporate interesting themes such as the rejection of chance and the clinging to causality in a society hungry for certainties. And that, curling the curl, can also include scenes of a certain emotional depth that represent the sadness of loss or the anguish of an anxiety attack. And do it without comic relief or beautifying aesthetic consolations, although in the end the authors propose that you leave the cinema with a perhaps too reassuring smile.