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By Merle Bertrand | July 14, 2004

While most crooks don’t have consciences, it’s at least nice to know that they can suffer from the occasional mid-life crisis, too. That’s what seems to be afflicting Thorkild (Soren Pilmark), a petty thief and con man who’s just turned 40 years old. Deeply in debt to a glowering thug known only as The Eskimo, Thorkild and his bumbling gang of crooks Peter (Ulrich Thomsen), Arne (Mads Mikkelsen), and Stefan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), have just knocked off a truckload of exotic black market cigarettes, only to discover that the truck is instead filled with low-quality knock-offs.

As if Thorkild wasn’t already depressed about his lifestyle when, a little edgy, he nearly shoots the guests at his surprise party, he becomes even more keenly aware he’s wasting his life when he receives an AK-47 for a gift instead of the bag of golf clubs about which he’d been fantasizing. Things deteriorate further when his intermittent flame, Therese (Iben Hjejle) leaves him for another man, just as The Eskimo shows up and demands the non-existent money from the cigarette sales.

Happy Birthday, dude.

Now completely enslaved by his indentured servitude to the Eskimo, Thorkild and his gang set off on the mob bosses’ order to rob a diplomat’s house, but the robbery provides a revelation: knowing that they’ll never possess this kind of money again, Thorkild convinces his skeptical henchmen to take the money and flee to Barcelona. Instead, when their van breaks down en route, they find themselves holed up in a ramshackle farmhouse; a farmhouse they somewhat hesitantly decide to turn into a restaurant called “Flickering Lights” and go straight.

“Flickering Lights” is full of more plot twists than the number of health code violations at a fast food joint. By turns violent, touching, silly, and, yes, even charming, director Anders Thomas Jensen (“Mifune,” “The King is Alive,” “Election Night”) has crafted a testosterone-driven gangster movie for the metrosexual male. In fact, so good is the mix between hardcore shoot-em up action, drolly crafted dialogue, and touchy-feely sentimentality, I think it’s somewhat safe to say that this could be the first gangster/date flick. One of the hard-bitten crooks even reads a poem and cries, for heaven’s sake!

Although this is a Danish film with English sub-titles, the titling work is (thankfully) easy to read. The grammar is correct, and the titles been timed in such a way as to flow naturally with what’s on screen. Which is good, because that way, you still have time to absorb Eric Kress’ lush photography of the verdant Danish countryside and the engrossing performance of Pilmark et. Al.

Hjejle’s character in the film is a restaurant critic who winds up writing a positive review on her ex-beau’s establishment in her newspaper. While I can’t account for the food at the Flickering Lights restaurant, I totally agree with her that “Flickering Lights” is something special, indeed.

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