Thursday, June 13, 2024

Sisu Review

An action-packed blend of Mad Max and Inglourious Basterds, Jalmari Helander’s Sisu is a gory, gruesome, and excellent ride.

Plot: When an ex-soldier who discovers gold in the Lapland wilderness tries to take the loot into the city, Nazi soldiers led by a brutal SS officer battle him.

Review: If you saw John Wick: Chapter 4 in the theater, chances are you saw the trailer for Sisu. The brutally bloody teaser showcased the same level of carnage we have expected from David Leitch films like Nobody and Bullet Train, but Sisu is very different. Harkening to the bloodlust one feels dispatching Nazis in games like Wolfenstein 3D or in zombie films like Dead Snow and Iron Sky; Sisu is chock full of World War II German monsters getting what they deserve in every conceivable way as well as some you likely never would have thought up in a million years. Lionsgate is betting that American audiences will appreciate Sisu much like they did Inglourious Basterds, and I can confirm that they absolutely will. Sisu is a violent and epic odyssey across the wild Finnish countryside featuring a badass action-hero character who earns a spot alongside John Wick and Mad Max.

Using throwback title cards and graphics that recall exploitation flicks of the 1960s and 1970s, Sisu briefly explains that the title refers to a Finnish word that cannot be translated but roughly means the grit, determination, and resilience of the Scandinavian people. We then see a brief history lesson about the Nazis being driven from Finland due to the Moscow accord, which did not stop them from scorching the Earth as they retreated. We then find ourselves following prospector Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a solitary man who wears a wedding ring and digs for gold alone in the remote area of Lapland. With only his dog, Korpi strikes it rich and heads back towards civilization when he runs into a death squad of Germans led by Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie). When the troops discover the gold, a violent chase across the wasteland ensues, with Korpi killing every Nazi. Along the way, we learn how Korpi became the one-man army he has become.

Over the brisk ninety-minute running time, Sisu manages to cram in many different types of action. From snipers to minefields, airplanes to motorcycles, underwater deaths to hangings and explosions, Sisu is far more violent than even the trailers let on. The desolate look of Lapland made me think of this film as being closer to Mad Max: Fury Road than John Wick. There is gunplay and hand-to-hand combat, but there is so much more going on here than the trailers show. Interestingly, the film features Finnish characters speaking their native tongue, but all German characters speak English. There is also not a lot of dialogue overall in the film, with Jorma Tommila uttering only eleven words in the entire movie. Keanu Reeves may have set a record in John Wick: Chapter 4, Sisu blows away that screen time ratio to dialogue. Tommila, who is 59, does an amazing job of physically embodying Korpi and communicating his visceral nature through scowls and a furrowed brow. It is a stellar performance.

The supporting players here are mostly cannon fodder, with the exception of Aksel Hennie. Best known for roles in The Martian and The Cloverfield Paradox, Hennie plays a selfish and rough Nazi who selfishly wants the gold as he knows Germany is poised to lose the war. Like any main villain, Hennie sends his henchman after Korpi and eventually has a one-on-one showdown with his nemesis. Of the other Nazis, standouts are Jack Doolan as the sniper, Wolf, and Tommila’s son Onni who plays Schutze. Mimosa Willamo plays a captured Finnish woman named Aino who explains Korpi and the meaning of sisu to the Nazis. Of the entire cast, there are probably only about thirty minutes of the film featuring spoken dialogue, with the rest taken up by action sequences or starkly beautiful landscape shots of the characters following each other across Lapland. Sisu is a desolate film in appearance but still surprisingly beautifully shot.

Writer/director Jalmari Helander is no stranger to violent action in his movies, having directed the Christmas action-horror movie Rare Exports and the Samuel L. Jackson flick Big Game which co-starred Ommi Tommila. Helander is brother-in-law to star Jorma Tommila and has given his family some stellar roles in his films. Here, Helander echoes great movies like First Blood, whose main character, Rambo, shares much in common with Korpi. In fact, if Rambo had been set during World War II, it likely would have looked a lot like this film. Like First Blood, there is far more than excessive violence that makes Sisu worth watching. Tommila’s performance is absolutely stunning to watch as he does everything from shielding himself using dead Nazis to finding a disturbing way to hold his breath underwater. Everyone from Kevin Smith to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would have loved this type of movie as kids, passing around VHS copies to their friends. This movie is a blast with a fitting retro look and sound courtesy of cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos and composers Juri Seppa and Tuomas Wainoia.


While many audiences may shy away from a foreign film because of subtitles, Sisu is almost entirely in English but does not need much dialogue to tell its story. Sisu is bloody, brutal, and absolutely awesome. Clocking in at half the length of John Wick: Chapter 4, Sisu is a non-stop bloodbath that I immediately wanted to rewatch as soon as it was over. There are no famous Hollywood stars here, but this movie is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. So grab some popcorn and a soda and sit back while Nazis get blown away amidst satisfying buckets of blood.


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