Danish director Ole Christian Madsen freely borrows elements of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army Of Shadows for the Nazi-resistance adventure Flame & Citron, though really, Madsen is indebted to Melville in a much broader, deeper way. Based on the true story of the Holger Danske—one of the more active and successful native sabotage agencies of World War II—Flame & Citron stars Thure Lindhardt as “Flame” and Mads Mikkelsen as “Citron,” two infamous resistance fighters who remain close even as their movement gets consumed with infighting and betrayal. Given the Holger Danske’s extreme secrecy, the Gestapo found the group easy to infiltrate and manipulate. In the movie, Lindhardt and Mikkelsen begin to question each other, as their assignments increasingly seem directed at Danes, whose level of complicity with the Nazis is unclear. Racked with doubt, Lindhardt and Mikkelsen harden up, like Melville protagonists, focusing more on performing their duties with coolness and precision, and less on the reasoning behind their missions.
Flame & Citron is one of the most expensive Danish movies ever made, and at times, it’s glossy to a fault. Madsen’s action sequences are beautifully choreographed and shot, and the movie is packed with slick shootouts and narrow escapes, but it all lacks a certain oomph. Like a number of recent European historical drama/thrillers—The Lives Of Others, for example, or Katyn—Flame & Citron leans toward the handsome and thoughtful when it could stand to be a lot dirtier and more visceral. (Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book makes a superb counter-example.) Also, Madsen and co-screenwriter Lars Andersen hammer too hard on the shopworn theme of how war sickens souls. Far more interesting is Flame & Citron’s other theme: the idea that war turns the notion of “shades of gray” into a luxury. The Gestapo can use Holger Danske as a weapon against itself because in an organization fervently pursuing a righteous cause, questioning orders becomes tantamount to giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It’s better just to stay silent, armed, and ready.