Lucy (2014)

Lucy is a pretty ambitious girl. Granted, her ambition only comes after massive quantities of a powerful superdrug allow her the use of previously uncharted regions of her brain, which in turn morphs her not only into the smartest kid in school but into the most powerful being in the history of the universe. Her quest to use 100% of her brain’s capacity and thus unlock the secrets of life sends her on a mission around the globe – and beyond.

So that’s the plot of Lucy, but don’t worry if it’s still a little unclear – Morgan Freeman is here to explain everything with some hand-holding exposition throughout the first acts of the movie. Still iffy? Never fear. A feature-length biology lesson ensues, emphasis heavy on the first part of “science-fiction” while largely disregarding the second part.

I’ll say that Lucy is a hell of a lot better than the trailers make it look. There’s a good filmmaker somewhere inside Luc Besson and Lucy is a more grounded, “realistic” kind of sci-fi flick than the gonzo Fifth Element, which of course isn’t saying very much about realism. The believability factor hovers around 5% when Lucy herself crosses 20% brain capacity, but someone in the peanut gallery at the Morgan Freeman lecture already said that we’re just simply hypothesizing here, so roll with it. The hypothesizing has fun parts, and Besson has a nearly-sure hand for long and exciting stretches.

The problems are probably inherent to the story, then. For instance: how can the stakes go higher as the movie progresses if Lucy has more and more control of her world? Okay, she’s dying at an accelerated rate, and okay, there’s a policeman along for the ride in order to highlight the fact that there is danger here. But a mid-film car chase (which happens to be pretty thrilling and inventive as far as car chases go) still lacks a major something in the believability department. There is no chance that Lucy will lose control of the car, and thus instead of engaging in the chase and flinching every time the car veers narrowly we’re really just waiting for the chase to end.

We also don’t see enough (or any at all) of the actual Lucy, i.e. the pre-superhuman person, i.e. the character that we could actually feel for. Zombie computer-brain Lucy, we got. Johansson pretty much nails the role, but it would have been nice to have something a little more relatable to latch on to at the very beginning of the film.

And what else is there to say? The stakes, again, are basement-low by the ersatz climax of Lucy. Choi Min-sik, South Korean actor known primarily for Oldboy, is in the villain role here and is his usual spellbinding self – but unless you’re a massive fan of his (like I am) or a Luc Besson completist (those exist?) or a bored teen looking for a Transcendence-level sci-fi flick, Lucy just doesn’t have a whole lot else to say. That may be a bit harsh, but given the galaxy-sized ambition of both Lucy the film and of Lucy herself, there’s certainly a whole lot of territory left to conquer.


Sid and Nancy (1986)

There’s a whole lot of Sid and Nancy that’s impossibly dark and depressing. The Sex Pistols bassist and his volatile girlfriend were not ones to live slow and boring, preferring hard drugs and long nights and loud music. The love was intense and it was brief, flaring exponentially like one of those dying superstars, forced to quit after burning too bright for too many hours. The end isn’t pretty, and it’s the only end that such a relationship could come to.

Alex Cox made Sid and Nancy almost immediately after his debut feature Repo Man, but there’s a clear jump in maturity from one film to the next. Sure, actors like Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb help; Webb is unfathomably childish, as the character should be, and Oldman is just amazing as the pencil-thin Sid Vicious. But Cox is the real star here, as he manages to make an extremely affecting portrait of two lovers out of the all-too-recent shards of their former lives.

The Sex Pistols disbanded after their US tour, leaving Sid and Nancy to fend for themselves and scrape by on Sid’s solo act. They are both extremely unhealthy, both in body and in mind, and the drugs they love begin to take hold of their affairs more and more. They stay in their room more and more, until the final scenes which are set entirely in the bedroom. Neither Sid nor Nancy seem able to leave that room, and it’s Nancy who never does. Her death – though surrounded by mystery in the actual news media – is an accident at the hands of strung-out Sid himself. Nancy’s life in the film up until this point is pathetic and difficult to watch, but her pitiful fate is quite nearly sickening.

Somehow, though, despite long stretches of despair and horrific moments like the death of Nancy, Sid and Nancy captures something else that the punk movement managed to as well. The Sex Pistols and their fans are hard-living, hard-drinking, leather-jacketed hoodlums who swear at their grandmothers and kick people in the face at their shows with boots on – but they have a good-natured humor about them at times, rolling around in the rain and parading down the street in their underwear. Alex Cox nails this humor, and amidst the deep dark of the majority of the film an important light peeks through again and again.

A smash cut of Sid walking into one pub and suddenly staggering out of another is a great example, as it gives a snapshot of his life in a half-second switch of the camera. Another sequence later shows Sid onstage singing to a crowd of well-dressed elderly white people who seem to love the metal-clad Sid Vicious – until he pulls out a pistol and murders everyone in the auditorium. Is this a dream? Is this some kind of vision Sid has of himself or of his place in society, a la Bronson or Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll? Whatever it is, it’s gleeful and jarring alongside the bedridden scenes that make up most of Sid and Nancy.

The best of these moments both come in New York City. The first is when Sid and Nancy happen across a kid being bullied and Sid tells the bullies off. “Who the hell do you think you are?” they sneer. “Sid Vicious,” Sid says, and the kids immediately scatter as if the name belonged to a Clint Eastwood drifter of the Old West. The second comes at the very end, when Sid walks past three kids dancing to hip hop. They tell him to dance with them, he says he ain’t gonna dance around with no kids – but he does. Nancy is passed but he hasn’t forgotten her, as if he ever could, and somehow all of this boils down to Sid Vicious dancing with a few kids in the middle of nowhere. This is the spirit that Cox injects into the bleakness of Sid and Nancy, and it’s what makes the film so effective in the end.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

There’s no doubt that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most gifted American actors of our generation. The Oscar winner for Capote was equally at home playing lovable rogues and despicable villains, taking increasingly challenging roles as his career went on. One of his final complete roles was that of Günther Bachmann in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, and Hoffman is his usual dedicated self as the Hamburg-based anti-terrorism agent.

Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a colossally slow and unexciting film, for the most part. Hoffman is superbly sluggish as the unhappy and overworked Bachmann; Grigori Dobrygin is likewise effective, if a bit underwritten, in the part of the illegal migrant Issa Karpov; Willem Dafoe seems present simply to be a famous face; and Rachel McAdams, beautiful though she is, remains utterly unconvincing as a foreigner. The plot of the film revolves around Bachmann’s maneuvering of the players involved in the appearance of the young Karpov in Hamburg, as Bachmann’s colleagues suspect him to be a credible threat to national security.

The film starts on a promising note. The first shot is nearly brilliant, telling a simple story without giving away any details at all. Again, Hoffman is thoroughly great – one reviewer noted a resemblance between Bachmann and a hungover panda, a sentiment which could not be more on the mark. There is a long shot midway through the film of Bachmann walking from a helicopter pad into a building, and the effort the guy takes just to keep his pants from falling down tells so much about his character. He can’t manage to keep himself dressed, and yet he’s pretty damn good at protecting his city from terrorists.

So the fault I find with A Most Wanted Man isn’t at all with Hoffman. He’s expected to do what Daniel Day-Lewis did for Lincoln, another long politically-driven film devoid of anything remotely resembling an action sequence. The problem is that Anton Corbijn is a far cry from Steven Spielberg, and A Most Wanted Man really drags for long stretches at a time. The opening scenes are set to quick string riffs you’d find in a Bourne movie, and the stage is set for that spy action chase scene…which never happens. I’m all for a movie that can carry itself without a fight scene, but the pace has to support such a thing by finding “action” elsewhere.

The film also falls to multiple spy-movie cliches, including the obligatory “Do you ever ask yourself why it is we do what we do?” question posed by the main character. Do you ever ask yourself why every spy movie feels the need to delve into this life-from-the-shadows routine? The reply, which could have turned the cliche on its head, ends up being even more of a cliche: “To make the world a safer place. Isn’t that enough?” The characters then repeat this near the climax of the film, because, you know, someone thought that was poignant.

Ultimately, in spite of a fantastic turn from the indomitable Hoffman, the sense of urgency just isn’t present in A Most Wanted Man. Perhaps if the film had been titled A Somewhat Wanted Man or You Should Really Only See This for Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least there’d be some truth in advertising to fall back on.

Straw Dogs (1971)

A quick visit to good ol’ Wikipedia will let you know that Straw Dogs came out the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry, all of which were considered by the general public to be excessively violent films. Those other films undoubtedly have some rough sequences (especially the slap-happy home invasion of A Clockwork Orange), but Straw Dogs probably takes the cake for the most disturbing usage of violence in any movie of that era. Though Peckinpah had endured harsh criticisms for his portrayals of violence in his earlier films (especially The Wild Bunch), Straw Dogs would reach new heights (or new lows, depending on who you ask) with regards to what can and cannot be shown in a mainstream feature film.

Dustin Hoffman’s David and Susan George’s Amy have just started a quiet stint in the English countryside, during which David plans to finally get some work done and Amy plans to nag David and putter around looking for the cat. A few of the locals throw long and blatant gazes toward the leggy Amy, much to the subdued frustration of David. Eventually, the locals begin to test their limits toward the young couple – and eventually the gazing becomes staring, the staring becomes touching, the touching becomes harassment and the harassment becomes outright violence.

A long and complicated scene in which Amy is raped provided much of the fuel for the fire of controversy that ignited immediately upon release of Straw Dogs. There are actually two rapes back-to-back by two of the vicious locals, the first of whom is a man Amy knows and used to date. There is a sickening ambiguity to this first sequence in which Amy, initially resistant, seems to fight the event off less and less as it progresses. The promiscuity of her character throughout the film was also harshly criticized, which somehow morphed into a criticism of Peckinpah’s depiction of women in all of his films.

Regardless, it’s the second rape that many perceived to be the excessively brutal one. Amy very clearly resists and despises the occurrence, and while the second happening isn’t actually as graphic as the first Amy’s reaction is what makes the sequence so completely disturbing. This scene was immediately cut by studios prior to the film’s release and the uncut version was slapped with an X rating.

The paradox here lies in there fact that cutting the second sequence left that ambiguity of the first to sit and fester, with many audiences believing through the end of the movie that Amy had ultimately allowed the horrible event to occur. Studio muddling is a characteristic of nearly every Sam Peckinpah film, and fairly noticeable in his films from Major Dundee onwards. The reworking of Straw Dogs provided the ultimate irony not only by confusing audiences with last-minute editing, but by effectively highlighting the most disturbing portion of the film in an effort to lighten things up.

Still, whatever form you find Straw Dogs in will mark an important turning point in Peckinpah’s career. Violence on the Western front is one thing – Westerns by their nature are violent, set in seemingly lawless lands, populated by drifters with no names or backstories or ties to society. Peckinpah essentially takes these traits and plops them into a town in England to watch what happens. The local brutes – especially those played by Del Henney and Peter Vaughan – capture that Western-bandit quality of general disregard for societal structure and general desire for personal satisfaction no matter the cost.

Straw Dogs isn’t a Western. The ultimate message, though – or one interpretation of the film – may be that the setting matters little, the players involved matter little, the circumstances surrounding these particular players in this particular place matter little. Peckinpah’s mankind is prone to violence, will grow to wrest a violent tendency from the most unassuming of men, and Straw Dogs depicts this unpopular but unwavering philosophy in an important way.

Torremolinos 73 (2003)

When flailing door-to-door encyclopedia salesman Alfredo learns his position is being terminated, he and his wife Carmen are willing to do pretty much anything to keep their meager income from petering out completely. Carmen wants desperately to have a baby and Alfredo basically just wants to keep his wife (and his landlady) happy. The solution? Take up an offer to produce “educational” tapes detailing the reproductive habits of Spanish couples.

Needless to say, hilarity ensues. Thankfully, the hilarity of Torremolinos 73 isn’t your run-of-the-mill oh-no-someone-found-our-sex-tape shenanigans. The romps that the couple film become increasingly elaborate, the landlady is paid but mortified, Carmen becomes a sex symbol throughout Scandinavia – and Alfredo? Alfredo becomes infatuated with cinema. He’s filming his incredibly beautiful sexy wife in every skimpy uniform imaginable and it’s the filming aspect of it that fascinates him.

Javier Cámara and Candela Peña are fantastic as the two leads, which aren’t overly complex characters but are still more layered than any to be found in a typical American comedy. The 1973 setting of the film also gives Torremolinos 73 some unexpected flair. All in all, the overall aesthetic and comedic arc of the movie are quite obviously more important to director Pablo Berger than the quick (and often cheap) laughs.

The funniest parts stem from Alfredo’s fascination with Ingmar Bergman as his own cinematic techniques become increasingly mature. Picture a softcore porno flick filmed with as much care as The Seventh Seal – complete with a young Mads Mikkelsen in the black-garbed role of Death himself – and you’ll have an idea of what Alfredo’s directorial debut looks like.

Torremolinos 73 is small and simple and enjoyable, outlandish enough in the premise alone without ever needing to rise to the absurd heights it easily could. As stated elsewhere, the Netflix offerings for modern foreign films can be hit-or-miss; while Torremolinos 73 isn’t breaking any new ground or even good for a true bust-up laugh, it’ll definitely put a smile on your face.

Repo Man (1984)

It’s no small miracle that Alex Cox’s Repo Man is even on anyone’s radar today, nevermind the fact that the weird little movie effectively jumpstarted the director’s entire career. It’s very possible that Repo Man could have slipped into obscurity and dragged Cox into the abyss along with it. There would be no late-night cult showings and, more shockingly, there would be no Alex Cox Director Series to presently grace your computer screen. Civilization would crumble beneath our feet and the decimated dregs of humanity would soon resort to cannibalism.

So be thankful that we have the junky, punky Los Angeles peopled by Emilio Estevez’s rookie repossessor Otto and Harry Dean Stanton’s Obi-Wan-esque speed addict Bud. The world of Repo Man is still freshly original, even today, still hilariously unique — a world where the beer is labeled BEER and the food FOOD, where repo agents are just car thieves that make a point of wearing seatbelts. Otto’s journey is one that goes round and round in circles, and the only semblance of plot in the film stems from a ’64 Chevy Malibu with some really hot contents in the trunk.

As noted by Roger Ebert in his original review, Repo Man follows none of the rules – there are simply no other movies about punk repo kids and radioactive aliens in Los Angeles. Detectives and secret agents pulled in for one last mission? Got ’em. Unlikely squirts finding the courage to overcome bully corporations? Yep. Repo Man, on the other hand, is damn near impossible to categorize. “It happens sometimes,” notes an investigator about a smoking bubbling puddle that used to be an upright policeman. “People just explode.” If these are the rules that Repo Man plays by, then the rules don’t matter much.

Cox was twenty-nine years old when he filmed Repo Man. He had a much larger budget than he’d originally envisioned and full control over the casting of the film, thanks to a measure of faith by Hollywood studio executives that seems outlandish today. It opened quietly and was pulled from theaters after a weeklong run. The soundtrack, though, chock full of “new” American punk, made a smallish comeback in the following months, prompting an eventual rerelease of Repo Man at a theater in New York City. From there, the film grew to the cult status it enjoys today.

And this still means that Repo Man has not had nearly the effect it should have — it could have — on modern cinema. Again, Cox’s career took off in a good direction as Repo Man gained traction — he went on to get the directing gig for Sid and Nancy in 1986, a movie which was well-received, followed by Walker with Ed Harris in 1987. Our Director Series takes proper looks at those later efforts, but suffice it to say that they’re quite different from this debut. Repo Man is important because it taps into and depicts a subculture so perfectly well. The pacing is so inviting and the tone so uncondescending as to bring nearly anyone along for the ride, in spite of the weirdo silliness unfolding before your eyes.

Simply put: we should have more movies like Repo Man. That silliness becomes a battle cry, becomes the entire world of the film, becomes something that challenges us to accept it rather than pining for our approval with tired gimmicks or recognizable characters. Once we accept the challenge we’re essentially in the car with the doors locked, doing 60 down the L.A. River. It helps that Repo Man is insanely quotable and that the running gags are so beautifully timed. What we might expect to be a sex scene is put on hold when Otto sits up straight in bed and says, politely: “Excuse me while I fold my pants.” Which he does.

So, in honor of Repo Man, one of the leanest and meanest and most straight-up fun director debuts in modern cinema: Let’s go get sushi and not pay!

Half Moon Street (1986)

Half Moon Street is one of those movies that just doesn’t have a whole lot to say, despite the tendency to delve into “timely” issues throughout the first act. Sorta-kinda based on the Paul Theroux novel Doctor Slaughter, the film stars Sigourney Weaver as an American expatriate with a bright future. Soon, Weaver’s Lauren Slaughter becomes involved with a high-price escort service and a British diplomat played by Michael Caine.

Let’s get this out of the way and state that Half Moon Street is pretty boring. Wikipedia marks the film an “erotic thriller”; it is neither. In fact, the most thrilling parts end up losing all of their magic during the absurdly expository finale, which presents itself as a twist ending but doesn’t begin to pack the punch that it hopes to. The “eroticism”, I suppose, is relative to the viewer, and I certainly understand if some people find a big-haired mid-80s Weaver lecturing airily on Anglo-Arab foreign policy a total turn-on.

Back to the “thriller” part: the opening of the film shows an unidentified figure leafing through videotapes of Londoners, a short scene which is called upon later when Lauren receives a videotape in her mail. We are consistently shown the inside of Lauren’s apartment and shown outings with her male callers from a distance, and very often the camera pans lazily off into an empty part of the room. Increasingly, though, these shots become more and more foreboding. A shot from behind a bush on a golf course not only gives the clear impression that someone is watching Lauren, but that we are in the shoes of the voyeur. We again see the unidentified figure recording Lauren, taping her conversations with Caine’s character, and the longer this goes on without an answer the more interesting it gets.

But again, the ending pretty much blows it. It’s political espionage, of course, and they’re just trying to kill Caine’s character and his reputation (and they make a specific point of stating that they’ll kill both, which seems unnecessary…if you kill the man’s reputation, do you really need to actually kill the man?). The mysterious portions of Half Moon Street are better off left that way, because once they’re solved the entire thing is an utter letdown.

Unless you’re in for a few interesting cameos (Vincent Lindon!) or the impossible sexiness of Weaver’s baggy trench coat and Caine’s baggy mustache, Half Moon Street is one you can skip.

Nighthawks (1981)

Oh man! If you’re looking for a New York cop movie that absolutely screams “1980s”, you’ve found it in Nighthawks. The hair! The outfits! The slap bass-laden soundtrack! The lack of anything resembling actual police protocol! The Billy Dee Williams! The hair!

Sylvester Stallone stars as macho cop DaSilva, who spends his nights catching the bad guys “his own way”. He’s smart, say his superiors, but he’s got an authority problem. Shocking, says anyone watching the movie. Absolutely shocking. When famed and feared foreign terrorist Wulfgar makes landfall in the United States with a mind to kill UN delegates in NYC, it’s DaSilva (of course) who somehow gets put on the case.

Frankly, Rutger Hauer as Wulfgar is the only thing that saves Nighthawks from being 100% trash, and in fact his portions of the film are really pretty great. He’s having an absolute blast with the role, a perfectly evil-looking actor in a perfectly evil character, and his scenes seem totally at odds with the stupid “detective work” scenes (note that quoted term is used lightly). When Hauer’s Wulfgar takes hostages on the Roosevelt Island Tramway and parades around the car amidst the startled passengers, telling them in a menacing tone to “Back up against the window!” as he brandishes his gun, he’s sure to add to one man in particular, “I like your hat!”

Considering Blade Runner came a year later and The Hitcher followed in 1986, Rutger Hauer was basically the best villain of the 1980s. The way he slithers through a locked door in the final scene of Nighthawks is nothing short of terrifying.

Frustrating, then, that the police work that ultimately brings him down seems devised by an adolescent. The procedure of catching the terrorist quite literally consists of agreeing to the ludicrous claim that the killer “is known to frequent night clubs” – as if shooting the shit with the mass murderer in between tequila shots were a common occurrence – and then happening upon the one club in the entirety of New York City in which Wulfgar happens to be jamming out.

Meanwhile, there’s also a half-assed romance subplot for your viewing pleasure. An imminent terrorist threat in the heart of NYC is a big deal, but DaSilva’s gotta think about his own needs, too.

Once you accept the horrendous script and learn to kind of gloss over the macho bullshit at the precinct, Nighthawks is certainly enjoyable enough as a mindless action movie. There’s probably a reason Bruce Malmuth only directed a few other projects, though, and the directing here would be forgettable if it wasn’t so glaringly bad. Now scroll back up and bask in that glorious lion’s mane – if anyone on the crew deserved to use Nighthawks as a platform to fame and fortune, it’s the hair stylist.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Film violence is a strange beast that has evolved rapidly over the past half-century, stretching from a time when a drop of blood would cause an outcry to now, when characters hardly have enough time for dialogue between gunshots and explosions. The Wild Bunch, which turns 45 this year, still manages to hold a vastly important place along that timeline.

The violence at play here isn’t Tarantino gore or anything you’ll see in cinemas today, really. But in 1969 The Wild Bunch caused a big commotion with the unflinching depiction and sheer number of death-by-gunshots woven throughout the runtime. The opening and closing scenes approach a cacophony that becomes like a kind of polyrhythmic music that the cowboys seem to be dancing to, a thousand gunshots fired from a thousand different directions and no one quite sure who’s shooting whom even when the dust has settled.

William Holden’s Pike leads Ernest Borgnine’s Engstrom and the rest of the Bunch across the picaresque Mexican borderlands as they are pursued by bounty hunters employed by the railroad – if this sounds suspiciously similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also 1969), it certainly is. Peckinpah and Co. rushed to get the film out ahead of Butch and Sundance, but while the plot points are undeniably similar the two films could not be more different. The Wild Bunch, aptly titled, is wilder, looser, grittier, and much more violent. Butch and Sundance shoot their fair share of people in order to survive; the Bunch do the same, but they revel in nearly every man killed.

And that’s another major difference in your typical “classic” Westerns of the period (those of Sergio Leone notwithstanding) and the brutal revisionist pieces that Peckinpah crafted: the Bunch, noble as Pike may seem at times and lovable as Engstrom may also seem, are without a doubt bad men. They steal, they corrupt, they kill, and they even take note of children watching as they continue in their vice. They are fighting for survival and we’re rooting for them – why the heck are we rooting for them? It’s interesting that screenwriter Walon Green is also credited years later on the brilliant Sorcerer, in which the “protagonists” are similarly despicable.

Each Peckinpah film seems to come complete with a Peckinpah anecdote detailing his often chaotic set conditions, and The Wild Bunch is no different. Peckinpah apparently wasn’t getting all he wanted out of a particular gunshot effect, so he snatched a live revolver and fired it without warning into a wall. He then took note of the shock on the faces of the crew around him, saying, “That’s the effect I want!”

But as had become apparent by the time Peckinpah made Major Dundee in 1965, the man knew how to direct a movie. Wild Bunch was notable for the realistic violence, but the cinematic techniques at play were also lauded as before their time. Several sequences of multi-camera, fast-cut action were unlike anything seen in a Western before, and the mix of regular- and slow-motion shots within a single thread were often flawlessly executed. The gunshots themselves, too, were designed to actually sound like the gun depicted on screen, rather than just a stock “gunfire” sound applied across the board to shotguns and revolvers alike. Attention to detail in this manner almost allows Peckinpah’s on-set behavior to be written off.

The Wild Bunch marked the arrival of a director who not only knew how to direct a movie but had a very particular kind of movie that he wanted to make. A Peckinpah film isn’t just a Western – it’s a Peckinpah Western. Studios didn’t always allow all elements of this singular vision to make the final cut, but Peckinpah was able to shine through the haze of Hollywood Executive Fog more so with The Wild Bunch than with any of his films to date.

Flame and Citron (2008)

Once you resist the temptations of masterpieces like Crocodile Dundee II and BoJack Horseman, Netflix tends to have a pretty sizable catalogue of foreign films for your viewing pleasure. Flame and Citron, while relatively well-known in Denmark (as Flammen & Citronen), passed without much notice in the States and elsewhere upon its release in 2008. Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen star as Danish Resistance fighters Bent Faurschou-Hviid (“Flame”) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (“Citron”), rogue assassins of Nazi officers who increasingly take matters into their own hands as WWII progresses.

Lindhardt is the real find here, as is director Ole Christian Madsen, while Mikkelsen will be much more familiar to American audiences from his roles in the ongoing Hannibal series and as the Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. At the start of the film both men just want to serve their country by ridding it of evil men, and though Mikkelsen’s Citron certainly transforms throughout the film from a timid tagalong to a ruthless assassin, it’s Lindhardt’s Flame who goes on the real journey. “There is no just or unjust any longer,” the pair agree. “There is only war.” Flame embodies this sentiment completely – but interestingly, he does so in part by wrestling with it and ultimately defying it.

There are more than a few weak scenes throughout Flame and Citron, such as the seemingly obligatory meeting between protagonist Flame and the chief antagonist, SS Head Hoffmann, in which the latter seethes cliches like “We are the same, you and I” in snakelike tones. While the majority of the film – especially the very last scenes – feel authentic and true-to-life, moments like this feel much more like fabricated movie drama.

That ending, though, hits home in a very particular way. It’s obvious that Flame and Citron took many cues from Army of Shadows and other similarly-set WWII yarns, but there are deeper connections with more broad and classic tales of men at war – I’ll go so far as to relate Flame and Citron to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, at risk of reading too much into things. Like Coriolanus, Flame is filled to the brim with passion about his conduct in wartime, the conduct of the men and women around him, burning with rage at the way the structures of such a time demand he act in unnatural ways. Further solidifying the comparison is the depiction of Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes’s 2011 adaptation, in which the great warrior is last seen being tossed into the back of a truck like so many pounds of lifeless meat.

Both Flame and Citron meet the exact same demise. For all of their battling on physical and emotional and moral fronts, for the sheer scale of their cause and the colossal sacrifices they both made in order to see that cause achieved, both men end up dead and lumped into the back of a truck. Nazi officers jump into the truck bed and sit smiling with the dead bodies as others laugh and photograph the posed corpses. Can such a dark ending be the central message of a WWII film made within the last decade? What goes on after these bodies are buried?

The answer, one may take away from Flame’s final soliloquy, is that it all goes on. There is no doubt that Flame and Citron ends depressingly for the men and their families. But the flame, the fire of resistance that these men stoked in each other and in men like them, is still lit.