Flickering Lights (eller Blinkende Lygter, på dansk) is an action-comedy about four small-time Copenhagen gangsters who give up on petty crime and jet off on a conquest to sunny Barcelona. Unfortunately for them, their car breaks down and they are forced into a depricit old farm house in the Danish woodlands. Plastering up the damaged walls, fixing the doors and throwing away their guns, the crew try to forget their incriminating past-lives and open up a family restaurant.
Although it didn’t receive much international acclaim, Flickering Lights was made to be seen by mainstream audiences (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation helped finance production). The fish-out-of-water premise is appealing, but the mixture of broad slapstick and dark, broody Scandinavian humour fails to get into stride. It’s also a completely predictable chain of events. Not because the story is derivative, worse than that, the movie starts with an infuriatingly comprehensive flash-forward into the future, where any potential unexpected thrills are abolished.
If you know anything about semi-mainstream Danish movies, you’ll be aware of the name Anders Thomas Jensen. A prolific screenwriter (for works such as the Dogme 95’s Mifune and the Kiera Knightley-starring period drama The Duchess), Flickering Lights marked his venture from pen to camera. It’s an ambitious directing debut, but it’s left in the shadows of another Danish gangster comedy from the previous called In China They Eat Dogs. Unsurprisingly, Jensen is credited as writer there too.
With four acting heavyweights from across Danish television & film, the performances and character dynamics are where Flickering Lights excels. Nightwatch‘s Ulrich Thomsen is the hilariously boisterous Peter who, after being shot in the stomach in the first ten minutes of the movie, spends days locked away in the farmhouse’s pantry, trying to go cold turkey from his coke addiction. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is the young dreamer Stefan who is distraught after abandoning his Copenhagen-based girlfriend. Best of the bunch, Mads Mikkelsen pops up as the tempestuous Arne, a brawler with a penchant for firearms. Lastly, there’s Søren Pilmark as the measured and paternally instinctive crew leader Torkild who tries to keep them all from boiling point. The four have a great chemistry together; an effervescent masculinity which makes Flickering Lights a just-about bearable bromance movie.
With a scattered shower of laughs and some decent characterisation, Flickering Lights is saved from being a total corn-fest. Just like the dishes the four gansters-cum-restauranters end up serving, the film isn’t as sweet and delicious as it’s ingredients would imply.