When Anders Thomas Jensen hit 45 years of age the “Adam’s Apple” and “Men & Chicken” director said he had a “minor breakdown,” questioning the point of his life and desperately searching for meaning.
Channeling these feelings into the character of a military man with PTSD whose wife has just died in a train explosion that may not have been an accident was the start point of Jensen’s fifth feature as a director: a mid-life noir that straddles action, comedy and existential drama.
Monday night’s Rotterdam Film Festival opener, “Riders of Justice” treads that delicate line between farce and tragedy as solider Markus (Jensen regular Mads Mikkelsen), also father to teenager Mathilde, hooks up with three oddball maths geeks to determine the cause of the fatal crash.
Markus’ band of data analysts and hackers – more accustomed to breaking into computer systems to steal free gym memberships than tracing criminal biker gangs, soon become embroiled in a revenge plot, but on the journey end up becoming an unexpected source of support for each other.
Unlike the teenage girl in the film (played by newcomer Andrea Heick Gadeberg), who has hundreds of notes stuck to her wall that plot the trajectory which led to her mother’s death, Jensen’s wall is clear of Post Its.
A prolific screenwriter with over 60 credits to his name, and regular co-writer of fellow Dane Susanne Bier’s films, he adds that he only sticks script notes to walls on other people’s dramas.
“It’s funny I’m writing a film for director Nikolaj Arcel (‘Royal Affair’) – who helped me with the idea for ‘Riders’ – and we’re now doing this kind of wall with notes everywhere – but when I write for myself I never do that – I build it all in my head first for maybe six months and then write it all down.”
The director warns that over-structuring can lead to blandness.
“In a bid to make things tighter, there’s a danger of erasing both the nuances of character and the tone of the film in the script editing and editing process,” he says.
Jensen is helped along the way with a regular family of actors which include Mikkelsen; “The Killing’s” Nicolas Bro – who plays Emmenthaler, a pizza loving surveillance nerd with limited social skills; Lars Brygmann – the film’s fragile Lenart; and Nikolaj Lie Kass who plays Otto, a computer programmer who happens to be on the train with Markus’ wife and daughter when the accident happens.
“This was Mads’ first time playing a straight character in one of my films – he had to be straight for this mix of genres to work,” Jensen explains.
“Basically I had this idea of doing a Suanne Bier social realistic drama mixed in with one of my old films like “Adam’s Apple” – and I knew that Nikolaj’s character Otto would have to be the glue between the two worlds and Mads would have to be straight, almost realistic Sunday night TV character,” he says.
“But it was hard for…