In wartime, the Danish resistance drama "Flame & Citron" shows us, idealism is the first casualty.

World War II freedom fighters Bent, alias Flame (Thure Lindhart), and Jorgen, alias Citron (Mads Mikkelsen), risk their lives to slay Nazis and Danish sympathizers. Flame, a fearless 23-year-old gunman, kills anyone on his superiors' enemies list. Citron, more than a decade older and responsible for a wife and daughter, has a marginally safer job driving getaway. But in a world of iffy confederates, conspirators and double agents, can they be certain they are killing the right people?

Ole Christian Madsen's fact-based thriller is packed to bursting with gunplay, double-crosses and mind-twisting villainy. The infernally ingenious film flies bravely in the face of conventional resistance stories. It's a war of paradoxes, suspicions colliding. We begin with full confidence that handsome young Flame (named for his vibrant red hair) is doing righteous work when he puts the muzzle of his pistol against someone's head and fires. Citron, who gulps amphetamines to stay alert, is a more problematic character, but he's clearly loyal to his code of never harming an innocent party. They are eminently credible and sympathetic. They are also in over their heads.

Lindhart, as the intrepid young gunman, wears confidence like a boutonniere, while Mikkelsen is a nausea-prone self-doubter. Both actors can convey a ballet of shifting emotions in a glance as they grapple with the higher mathematics of duplicity and espionage.

As the story goes on, we begin to ponder and calibrate the arguments of opposing characters. Flame's older lover works for the underground and says his resistance controller is a villain out to eliminate his adversaries. Citron's wife gravitates to another man and fears that her husband, accustomed to murder, will kill her new love. Much of the film's drama relies on us analyzing what we've seen and what we think we know and becoming less and less sure of whom to trust.

The film's look underscores its themes of civilization and savagery wrestling for control. After every scene of brains splattered on pavement the camera retreats to an exquisite drawing room or a convivial tavern.

The story gathers operatic force in its final chapters as the German army and an insidiously intelligent Gestapo officer hunt the pair. The heroes regularly salute "the motherland," but by the time the film is over, we see it as a haven of people whose first loyalty is to their own skins. To its credit, the film gives full weight to the confusion and ambivalence of war; the struggle for liberation from tyranny rarely looks so dubious.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186