Mads Mikkelsen’s expression is both ferocious and caring. His clenched jawline, brittle grin, and dark eyes, even when concealed behind the huge beard he wears in Riders of Justice, suggest both the compassion and the killer instinct of the father/soldier he plays. It’s easy to see why writer-director Jensen casts the actor again and again (this is their fifth collaboration): his films have a similar duality, expertly alternating from vicious to heartfelt in the blink of an eye.
Emma’s squaddie husband Markus (Mikkelsen) returns home from war to care for their teenage daughter after a young Estonian girl’s Christmas wish threatens to set off a series of events that leads to her accidental death. The tragedy’s randomness sends father and daughter into a tailspin, but the discovery by a trio of bickering boffins that Emma was merely collateral damage in a nearby biker gang assassination propels Markus into action. Grief is difficult for him, but he excels at vengeance.
Markus’ crusade may have ended on a bitter note in a braver, more honest film, but Jensen loves his broken ensemble too much to follow through on any real-world consequences. It’s difficult to blame him: you’ll adore them as well.