'Lights': Copenhagen and Robbers

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2003

The Danes are a decade late in jumping aboard the Quentin Tarantino bandwagon, but jump they have, in an atmospheric if violent film called "Flickering Lights."

The milieu is pure mid-'90s Quentin, lower-echelon, cheesy crime shenanigans among wannabes and used-to-bes with too many guns and too many wisecracks in the shadows of a great city. But . . . Copenhagen?

Indeed, Copenhagen, in writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen's riff on Tarantinoesque themes, which are said to be a big box-office bonanza in Scandinavian climes. It certainly begins with a bold stroke: It appears to be a movie set inside a restaurant review!

We open on an idyllic setting out of European folk tradition, an alpine manse in deep green forest in some clean rural setting. Inside, we see waiters like elves and customers like earnest acolytes in a sun-washed room that continues the visual traditions of the opening shot, as the voice of a restaurant critic self-importantly sets out to tell us what is so unique about this particular place.

What ensues is the story of how four scroungy, down-on-their-luck low-rent crime boys ended up restaurateurs. The leader, Torkild (Soren Pilmark), upon turning 40, realized that he must change his pathetic ways. However, certain scams have irritated his superior in the Copenhagen criminal hierarchy and so he is obligated, with his three droogs, to perform a service. That service is burglarizing a house to get a briefcase, but under no circumstances are they to open the briefcase.

Well, you might as well tell the rain not to fall, the taxman not to send his bill, and Mr. Death to come back another day. The briefcase contains a fortune, and the four losers see this as their chance to get outta town (all the way to Spain) and start over.

So the movie is basically a chase, complicated by two facts: One of the guys has been shot, and the director really likes flashbacks. So we get a childhood evocation of each thug and see how his pathology is rooted in child abuse. That is almost always true, but the movies somehow never get around to the equally true reality that most abused children do not become criminals.

Anyhow, it's funny and violent and fast and, er, Danish.

Flickering Lights (95 minutes, at the AFI's Kennedy Center theater) is unrated but has violence and gore, as well as profanity, that would earn it an R.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company