“Sisu” stars Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, and Onni Tommila. Released in Finland on January 27, 2023, followed by a U.S. release on April 28, 2023, the film has a prospector protecting his gold from a Nazi death squad.
The film was written and directed by Jalmari Helander, who also directed "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" and "Big Game". He also helmed several short films, including "Iceman", "Maximillian Tarzan", and "The Fakir". It's always satisfying watching plenty of criminals get what's coming to them, especially in action movies. But that's nothing compared to seeing the Nazi scumbags get their just desserts, mainly through their gruesome deaths. However, in this action film, their deaths aren't at the hands of our army. Instead, it's a one-person army that gets to teach them a lesson they'll never forget. We're just one week away from experiencing another year of summer movie goodness filled with family-friendly options and action blockbusters. However, it looks like we're getting a head start for the latter as this weekend brings us a bloody, white-knuckled bonanza from Finland to experience before we reunite with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Does it deliver the excitement and joy out of watching the Nazis get brutalized? Let's find out.
The story centers on Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a gold prospector living alone in the remote wilderness of Lapland during the Lapland War. Spending his days panning and mining for gold, Aatami eventually uncovers a bunch of gold nuggets hiding underground. While traveling with the gold, Aatami encounters a Wehrmacht platoon led by SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Hennie). The army initially takes little interest in Aatami but changes their mind when they discover he's carrying the gold with him and try to take them from him. Upon doing so, the unsuspecting Nazis uncover Aatami's true self: he's a skilled and violent Winter War veteran nicknamed "Koschei", meaning "The Immortal". This leads to an extreme bloodbath between Aatami, who attempts to defend his gold, and Bruno's army of victims for Aatami's brutal rage.
This movie has been on the top of my list for this weekend since I first saw the red-band trailer. It features a simple concept popularized by the "John Wick" films, in which a seemingly ordinary yet skilled person kills many bad people in their path. We've seen this concept many times, but it always leaves a satisfying (and bloody) taste in our mouths with the proper execution. That is part of the reason I enjoyed other films similar to "John Wick", like 2021's "Nobody". "Sisu" looks to be a part of this flourishing category, but with the Nazis getting brutally tortured this time around. Who doesn't love seeing the unforgivable scums of the Earth get unceremoniously killed in action? Of course, I mean that in a rhetorical sense.
While the story easily reminds us of "John Wick", "Sisu" is actually inspired by two sources, according to the director. One is the 1982 Sylvester Stallone action classic "First Blood", which also involves a veteran surviving against those hunting them down. The other is the real-life Finnish military sniper Simo Häyhä, who's regarded as the deadliest sniper of all time. Those influential sources made more sense regarding their histories, but were they enough to conjure a compelling plot filled with violence, gore, and big chunks of gold? The answer to that question is what you expect from a film about a prospector killing Nazis.
Part of the movie-going experience is the satisfaction of watching horrible people meet their unsuspecting demise, mainly in movies from the action and horror genres. Whether you enjoy the finished product or not, it's tough to hide the sheer pleasure of seeing our heroes beat the stuffing out of the villains or even blow their heads up. "Sisu" is unsurprisingly no different, as it delivers a satisfying mixture of grindhouse-inspired violence and war thrills that's consistently entertaining and bleakly brutal. Unfortunately, despite providing the bloodshed that we expect, I wouldn't be quick to call it a new action classic.
One reason is the film's story. It's obviously straightforward, with Aatami going from point A to point B while fighting off Nazis, and that's pretty much it. Aside from its examination of stoic perseverance, it doesn't involve any deep meaning or complex storytelling that'll get it more gold from the Oscars. The film only exists to provide a series of savage fatalities for our viewing pleasure. However, it was able to compensate for it with Aatami himself. "Sisu" is another movie that heavily uses actions and expressions to depict its main character instead of dialogue. Of course, his backstory was explained through the supporting characters, but when the focus is on Aatami, the movie attempts to make me engage with the character without him saying a single word. At least, not until the final minute. The result is a decent effort in delivering the character essence of its war-infused bloodbath, mainly due to Jorma Tommila's compelling performance and Helander's lean yet suitable script.
Along with Tommila, the rest of the supporting cast delivered some solid performances. Aksel Hennie manifested Bruno's villainous persona well, and Jack Doolan was decent as Wolf. Mimosa Willamo was also a good addition to the cast as Aino. Aino is one of the women who were held prisoners by the Nazis. Although Aino and the other women didn't affect the plot much, their big moment in the third act satisfied me without making them feel like pointless additions.
I was unfamiliar with Helander before I watched the movie. I only recognized him once I did some research on his works. I noticed that Helander had made some films that were under my radar, so "Sisu" is basically my first experience with his direction. After watching the movie, I might have to check out his previous works in the future. From the first frame to the last, Jalmari Helander delivers a well-crafted homage to the low-budget B-movie trend without overblowing it with CGI and big blockbuster antics. The visual effects were solid, and the set designs effectively captured the harsh and violent era of World War II in Finnish Lapland.
Another element that sealed the deal for me was its violence. As expected, the film is a savage ride involving Nazis being shot to death, blown up to pieces, and run over by a tank. Through Helander's bleakly compelling vision, the action sequences left me grinning and even laughing at the absurdity and satisfaction of watching the Nazis bite the dust. Unfortunately, the movie gradually lost some of its momentum following the first half regarding its absurdity. It maintains the consistency of its entertainment values, but there were a few scenes that could've taken full advantage of its dark and ridiculously humorous tone. There were also a couple of moments where the fight scenes were a bit unfocused regarding the cinematography despite the framework being superb for everything else. It accomplishes the goal of being gleefully violent, but I think it could've done much more with its brutalities and carnage to deliver something extraordinary.
Overall, "Sisu" is a gleefully entertaining and occasionally absurd treat that captures the joy and pleasure of watching Nazis get viciously slaughtered. Its storytelling is a bit bare-bones, and the momentum of its ridiculousness may not be enough to fulfill all of my expectations. However, the film pulled itself through the carnage to deliver a violent and well-crafted action movie that'll easily satisfy fans of the genre. The cast was decent in their roles, mainly Jorma Tommila as Aatami. Helander's style was serviceable for its tone, and the action was entertaining, even though its momentum was a bit tame sometimes. Of course, the movie will highly depend on how you feel about blood and gore because it has plenty of them. But if you don't care about those things and want to watch a guy torture a group of Nazi scums, I'd say go for it and enjoy the carnage.