War heroes or criminals?
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Dec. 18, 2009
It may seem like a strange analogy to make concerning a movie about Danish Nazi hunters, but there's more than a bit of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to "Flame and Citron," the compelling, fact-based tale of two of Denmark's most famous World War II resistance fighters.
First off, there's that odd title. It refers to the code names of the movie's protagonists, Bent (Thure Lindhardt), known as Flame for his bright red hair, and Jorgen (Mads Mikkelsen), or Citron (who works in a Citroen automobile factory). Then there's the ending. It won't spoil anything to know that it doesn't end well for our heroes, who spend much of the film picking off Danes who they believe have collaborated with the Nazis. "Inglourious Basterds"-style wish fulfillment this isn't. When Flame and Citron go out -- if not exactly in a blaze of glory like Butch and Sundance, then at least with a bang -- their fate feels like a sad, and long-overdue, inevitability.
No mention is made of the fact that the Danish underground had, by that point, already rescued almost all of the country's nearly 8,000 Jews, by smuggling them into Sweden. The film, by Danish director Ole Christian Madsen, is much more interested in kiss kiss, bang bang. Yes, there's a subplot involving a femme fatale, Ketty (Stine Stengade), who may be playing Flame, a coldblooded killer under normal circumstances, but one who gets a little squeamish when it comes to shooting women. In a touching moment, he even covers one female victim's eyes, just before shooting her point-blank in the head.
Mostly, though, they wait. While waiting, there's plenty of time for them -- and us -- to ruminate about the justice of what they're doing, which involves assassinating their countrymen, along with Germans who aren't members of the military and who may sympathize with the resistance. Early in the film's noirish voiceover narration, Flame explains that he's not just doing the right thing but also the "only right thing." Deeper into the story, as the moral blacks and whites become gray it isn't so clear. Flame and Citron's handler (Peter Mygind) might be sending them off on missions to execute innocent victims. And an unauthorized attack on what's supposed to be the motorcade of a high-ranking Gestapo leader named Hoffmann (Christian Berkel) goes tragically awry.
As one leader of the resistance observes, "War can be confusing."
That understated acknowledgment lends "Flame and Citron" a surprisingly contemporary subtext, as when Hoffmann, in an abortive showdown with Flame, calls his would-be assassin a well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided, terrorist. "Don't you realize," Hoffmann asks, "you're just a tool for someone with less pure motives?"
Like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Flame and Citron" is the story of handsome rogues with guns. It's fast-paced, stylish and thrilling. But it also raises one tough question.
Not long after one of his and Flame's hits, Citron is urged to shake down a Danish merchant who has been collaborating with the Nazis, an act of petty thievery he eventually succumbs to. At first, the look on his face is one of pure affront. His eyes ask: What do you take me for? "I'm not," Citron protests, "a criminal!"
The film is not so sure.
At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains plentiful violence, obscenity and a sex scene. In Danish and German with English subtitles. 130 minutes.