THE STORY – During the last days of World War II, a solitary prospector crosses paths with Nazis on a scorched-Earth retreat in northern Finland. When the soldiers decide to steal his gold, they quickly discover they just tangled with no ordinary miner.
THE CAST – Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan & Mimosa Willamo
THE TEAM – Jalmari Helander (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
It’s hard to say that “Sisu” is a great movie or even a particularly good movie; yet, it’s easy to say that “Sisu” is unabashedly committed to being exactly what it promises: 90 minutes of a middle-aged Finnish badass seemingly immune to death who kills Nazis in the most gruesome ways imaginable—no more, no less. You’ve come to the right place if that’s what you’re looking for.
Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) was once the Finnish army’s personal John Wick. When the Russians invaded Finland, he killed more than 300 men. According to legend, he couldn’t die. But now, he’s retired and committed to digging for gold in the wilderness. However, after a group of Nazis fleeing Finland leave a path of destruction in their wake, they come across Korpi and steal his gold, making a deadly mistake. Korpi isn’t immortal. He can be wounded, but he seems unable to die. The Nazis have tanks, guns, and aircraft. He has his wits and a single-minded desire to kill. Now, he will mercilessly pick them off one by one until he gets his gold back.
“Sisu” isn’t interested in delving into complex themes. It’s about a guy killing villains who are pure evil. We only learn a little about his background, and his motives are seemingly purely mercenary: these people stole his gold, and he wants it back. But, something is endearing about the simplicity of movies like this and the first “John Wick,” as there isn’t much lore. Instead, there is just an incredibly competent, hard-to-kill guy who gets pissed off and exacts merciless revenge. When taken seriously in something like “Taken” or “Death Wish,” that concept can be eye-roll-inducing. But writer-director Jalmari Helander has his tongue firmly in cheek in his execution here. There is clearly a lot of Quentin Tarantino’s inspiration on display, but not in the dialogue; significant portions of the film are entirely dialogue-free. Instead, we can see Tarantino’s inspiration in the reverence for Spaghetti westerns with Sergio Leone-esque music, wide-open vistas, old-fashioned title cards, and a macabre sense of humor in the way the film handles violence.
“Sisu” seems to recognize that it is a little bit dumb and embraces that. The most excessively un-killable man in history keeps finding new and creative ways to kill Nazis. They can shoot, stab, hang, and blow him up, and he keeps coming for them like Jason Voorhees. The plot beats must be compelling and especially well-staged in a simple film like this to avoid feeling repetitive and aimless. After all, “Sisu” is essentially a chase movie in the vein of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The action sequences are nowhere near as impressive as those found in Miller’s action classic or “John Wick.” Still, there is enough stylized cinematography and in-camera stunt work to make the action scenes engaging. The over-the-top sound work that emphasizes every creek, groan, splat, crunch, and thud helps, too.
That being said, the schtick does overstay its welcome a bit. The fact that Korpi seemingly cannot die robs the film of some of its suspense. It is established early on that he can survive wounds that normal humans cannot. So, for the rest of the film, we watch passively as he eradicates Nazis, knowing that they can’t kill him no matter what they do. Even as the film keeps finding new ways for Korpi to destroy nazis — his final kill is a doozy — one wishes there was maybe a bit more or the film wrapped up sooner. Even at 90 minutes, it feels a tad overlong, no matter how enjoyable seeing Nazis get offed is.
The film’s sense of humor is its saving grace. It mines (pun intended) deaths for comedy, showcasing the idea of someone stepping on a landmine, being blown up, and having a body part flung onto another landmine, detonating that mine. As the film’s lead, Tommila gives a committed, almost entirely silent performance and is believable as this almost inhuman badass.
“Sisu” is a solid, fun enough, and well-made movie that plays perfectly to a midnight audience or B-movie crowd. Anyone who wants to see an old guy obliterating Nazis will get an old guy slaying Nazis…No more, no less, for better or worse.