It may be early days to talk Oscars 2022; but if there are ‘early birds’ for Academy consideration, these two films may find their way to the talking list. One is from Denmark, while the second, hails from the UK.
Riders of Justice (Video on Demand) – If you’re not intimidated by sub-titles, then look out for this Danish film that stars Mads Mikkelsen. At this midyear point, it’s easily one of my favorite films for 2021, buoyed by the inescapable fact that it’s only in European films that Mikkelsen’s true range is explored and challenged. With US films and the MCU, he’s reduced to one-dimensional villains, or crazed action figures. Riders is a dense, textured revenge drama that transcends it’s genre, and becomes as much an impressive ensemble film, as it is a Mikkelsen vehicle. To reduce it to its minimum, Mikkelsen plays Markus, a Danish commando in Afghanistan, who while on duty, gets the news that his wife was killed in a horrible rail accident. Their teenage daughter survived the train crash, but father and daughter don’t have the easiest of relationships.
The plot thickens as a mathematician, who also survived the accident, decides that the crash wasn’t an accident, but was planned by a crime/bike group known as the Riders of Justice, to eliminate an ex-gang member who was planning to testify against them. Along with a researcher and a hacker, this mathematician become the social misfits and underdogs that serve as Markus’ back-up. What’s beautifully pitched is the black humor, the action, the emotional baggage and the interpersonal dynamics of all four, plus the distraught daughter and her boyfriend. It’s been compared to the Coen Brothers, and while I can see why they’d say it, this film is also its own ‘animal’. Each character comes alive with their own quirks, defects, and foibles, such that we invest in them individually. They’re all trying to survive through loss of some kind, and while you may approach this film thinking Mikkelsen, you’ll leave caring about all of the ensemble cast, and how Director Anders Thomas Jensen has stitched this together.
The Duke (Video on Demand) – The year is 1961, and as the film opens, we’re in Yorkshire, and in London. In London, talk is about how Goya’s Duke of Wellington portrait has been ‘purchased’ by the National Gallery. In Yorkshire, Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) is fuming about why senior citizens like him have to pay a license for their BBC broadcasts. He takes to the street to protest, to the chagrin of his wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren), and somewhat supported by his two sons. He decries the Government money paid for the Goya painting, which could have been put to better use helping OAP’s (old age pensioners). At some point in the film, said Goya painting ends up in the Bunton household, and when returning it to the Gallery, Kempton is charged with theft and brought to court.
There’s a somewhat slight narrative, but it’s bolstered by the wonderful acting of both Jim Broadbent & Helen Mirren. They fill in the characters impressively so that we feel and understand where they’re coming from, as the working-class British, who feel the toffs exist in a world devoid of the realities of the majority. It’s also a courtroom drama, and you know how the English excel in this milieu. The likes of Matthew Goode and Fionn Whitehead provide able support, but of course, it’s the Broadbent and Mirren portrayals that take us home. They’re funny, witty, and country-wise, ready to charm us at every turn of this film. And it’s Broadbent who really steals the show. The only thing the audience may find difficulty with at first, is their Yorkshire accent – a far cry from the clipped, upper-class British accent we’re exposed to in such shows as The Crown. A very British heist film, that’s truly different in a manner that beguiles.