Sisu has a pure white-knuckle ferociousness that can be felt viscerally.
BY M.N.MILLER MAY 9, 2023
Sisu is the kind of breathless action film experience that has you looking at the screen through narrow openings of your fingers because of its pure white-knuckle ferociousness. Jalmari Helander's (Big Game) jaw-dropping action film is like John Wick without the toys and a protagonist with ten times the grit that's practically oozing from the man's pores. It's a jaw-dropping, hair-raising, and exhilarating historical action picture helmed by a brooding lead performance by key Helander player Jorma Tommila.
Do you think I'm lying? Feel free to challenge me as Tommila's Aatami uses the inside of a Nazi's head to clean his large bush craft knife to a brimming shine or uses Nazis as target practice as he tosses mines through a smoke-filled field as if he needs a challenge. Here, Aatami is a former Finnish officer awaiting World War II's end of mining for gold. In a spectacular scene sitting at a campfire, a squadron of Nazi planes fly overhead, and later, behind him, signs of carnage miles off in the distance. The Nazis are dropping bombs, and Aatami knows they will be coming his way.
However, Aatami experiences gold fever the next day as he comes across a dozen pounds of the shiny, tarnish-free precious metal. He fills up two modestly sized bags worth, gets on his trusty horse, and his adorable Bedlington Terrier at his side as he sets off on a dangerous journey into town to claim his riches. Unfortunately for the former fierce Finnish warrior, he comes across a couple of Hitler's regiments while walking across the newly scorched Northern Finland's Inselberg plains. An SS Senior Storm Leader, Bruno (The Martian's Aksel Hennie), gets wind of Aatami's riches and knows the war is ending soon with him on the losing end and wants the gold for himself.
Helander also wrote the script, and this is an adrenaline-fueled armrest-grabber that can be felt viscerally throughout the picture. The real key here, though, is how Helander takes some real chances with unexpected scenes and character choices that trump action-film clichés. I mean, how often do you see someone try to get away from a Nazi-trained German Shepherd by lighting themselves on fire with a single match they keep in their pants pocket? It’s a film experience that cannot be done without the extraordinary Tommila, who only speaks a total of eleven words in the entire script but says more in a single look than most can do with an entire monologue.
Sisu moves at a brisk ninety-seven minutes, and the only problem I had with the film was the final big action sequence. Now, everything is so far-fetched it hardly matters, and most of the scene does work. However, the collection of scenes leads to a final moment that is so far-fetched it goes beyond believable and mildly takes you out of the experience. There isn’t an explanation for it, and the character that walks away by being able to walk upright is laughable.
That being said, it’s hardly objectionable since much of the movie is purely exaggerated historical escapism at its best. And while Helander should be praised, Sisu would have never worked without Tommila’s stoic and chilling turn, a Finnish-John Wayne type, who carries the film from its stunning beginning to its brutal climax. The mix of action and darkly comic moments creates an inglorious Finnish Western that delivers all the bloody carnage it promises.