Pros: Fascinating true story, styllized, captivating leads
Cons: Story goes a little too deep at times
Flame & Citron (2008)
Danish Title: Flammen & Citronen
Directed by: Ole Christian Madsen
Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen
It takes a premise vaguely similar to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and stylizes it like Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies,” two of last year’s biggest disappointments for me. But whereas the previous two titles fell short, this new to DVD Danish World War II pulp thriller hardly misses a beat.
The title might sound like something you’d order from your bartender, but it refers to the codenames of our two antagonists. They were key members of the Danish Holger Danske resistance group whose feats earned them the reputation of real life Robin Hoods. Flame (Thure Lindhardt) is the young, charismatic, calm triggerman earning his nickname for his bright orange hair, although movie trivia buffs will notice that he’s always the first to pull out a cigarette lighter whenever the occasion requires. Citron (Mads Mikkelsen) is the getaway guy and one of the key logistical enablers within the movement, gaining his nickname from his job at the local Citroen factory. Together they eliminate Nazi conspirators and informants.
As such the movie plays out like a tense action drama. The assassinations are numerous and usually point blank, while the occasional near miss brings added intensity. But Madsen (director and co-screenwriter) dishes up his tale with a few extra layers of complexity, ambiguously challenging his subjects with questions of conscience and duplicity. Citron has a family he rarely sees, his work prevents it and we (as well as he) are never really sure as to how content he is with that arrangement. Flame becomes besotted by a blonde fatale, one who’s an aid to the resistance but whose loyalties may also be divided.
She’s not the only one whose agenda is a little clouded though. When policy changes to start knocking off the German leaders too (previously it had always been deemed too dangerous for fear of reprisal) the duo start to question the motives and orders of their superior. In a society where motivations are divided by national pride and personal security, it’s difficult to know who to trust. Should they blindly kill without question? Women and sympathizers make for the biggest challenge, as well as those opposers who dub them: “tools for people with less pure motives.”
With its elements of heroism, film noir and the anti-hero, “Flame & Citron’s” story is extremely well crafted. Madsen’s ambiguity though is part strength and part weakness here. We’ve seen the strength of movies that have painted villains as the heroes (almost every gangster movie out there) but when you take two figures of such great national pride and achievement and question their motives you don’t necessarily get the same effect. It’s a great intellectual discussion and while the fact that this dynamic duo caused such a headache for the Gestapo is greatly celebrated, the fact that they also mistakenly and myopically killed innocents leaves you feeling a little down.
Stylistically there’s much to admire. As I mentioned it looks like a mixture between the gangster movie and the film noir, accentuated not only by the ambiguity but also by the constant clattering of machine guns and screeching of getaway wheels. Its saturated color scheme is loyal to the period but it also serves to highlight the vibrant figures of Flame and Citron as larger than life, the former especially so given his bright hair color. The leads are excellent too, especially Mikkelsen who plays Citron as a perspiring wreck (he was known for his late night work resulting in a constantly tired and weathered look), kind of a mix between Barton Fink and Clark Kent.
When “Inglourious Basterds” was billed as a bunch of Nazi killers, I was disappointed that it didn’t necessarily play out as such. In that regard I found “Flame & Citron” to be greatly more satisfying. It really is the “Bonnie & Clyde” of World War II movies. The screenplay might have got a little muddled or sidetracked but it still remains loyal to its premise and ultimately honors these two heroes of the resistance. Its mixture of folklore, gangster, noir and war themes means it ought to find a wide audience.
Verdict: 4 Stars – Highly Recommended
An entry into captaind's Good Movies Guide