If this were almost any other movie, you’d be able to write the rest of this review yourself. But from the tone of the early scenes, which generously make room for grace notes of characterization and performance and allow the characters to get sidetracked into what only seem like irrelevant side discussions, you figure out that this is no ordinary example of a genre programmer that’s mainly interested in finding inventive ways to put viewers through the paces they expect.
For one thing, Jensen makes Otto not the messenger who sets the plot in motion, but part of a trio that includes a fellow probability expert named Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and a tightly wound, often volatile computer hacker named Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), written and performed with such skill that they become a classic comedy trio: essentially the intellectual, university-pedigreed answer to the Three Stooges. Like Mathilde, Markus and everyone else that passes in front of Jensen’s viewfinder, these three men are given complex and ultimately endearing backstories that not only inoculate them against any perception of being standard-issue “action film sidekicks,” but feed into the film’s sincere fascination with questions of fate, luck, chance, justice, karma, and other subjects rarely discussed in films where the hero is a frowny-faced bald dude who can snap a man’s neck like a shingle.
“All events are products of a series of preceding events,” Otto tells an assembled panel of corporate clients who ultimately reject an algorithm that he and Lennart are trying to sell them. “Because we often have insufficient data, we categorize events as coincidences.” This statement echoes through many subsequent scenes, including the church service at which Mathilde’s mother and Markus’s wife is laid to rest. “When miracles happen,” the priest says, “we often attribute a divine character to them. However, when lightning strikes, when tragedy becomes reality, we have a hard time assigning a return address, and thus we refer to it as coincidence.” Once the Stooges enter Markus’ life, bloodshed inevitably follows, but not in a lockstep, predictable way, owing to the pinball-machine collisions of the various personalities involved (in particularly Markus’s; he’s both deadly and volatile, not a great combination when you’re trying to carry out a methodical plan).
Naturally, the really big question here is whether the train crash was a premeditated crime or merely the culmination of a series of things that quite simply happened, no more and no less. A large part of the charm of “Riders of Justice” (what an ironic title, in retrospect!) comes from the way that it keeps us guessing as to what side of the equation, so to speak, it’ll finally come down on, or whether it’ll take a position at all. What are we to make, for instance, of a seemingly exact calculation by Otto that the odds of that crash taking out both the hero’s wife and the star witness in a gang trial are 234,287,121 to one? Or, for that matter, the film’s subtle, mordant awareness that no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse? “Only thing is, after all this crap, it’s unlikely more is going to happen,” Mathilde tells Otto. “That’s not how things work,” Otto replies. “A lot of awful things can happen in your life.”
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