Film Review: “SISU”


  • SISU
  • Starring: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie
  • Directed by Jalmari Helander
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 31 mins
  • Lionsgate
If “John Wick” and “Nobody” had a baby, and Quentin Tarentino served as the surrogate mother, then its name would be “Sisu.” Bloody, grotesque, gritty and violent, “Sisu” is everything you could ask for in a film in which a multitude of Nazis are killed in a multitude of ways. Its story, set against the backdrop of the waning days of World War II in Finland, is elegant in its simplicity. However, while it may have its element of fun, the film is nothing we have not seen before.
During the early years of World War II, Finns fought alongside Germans against the Soviet army, which became known as the Continuation War. This changed in September 1944 when an armistice between Finland, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom brought this part of the conflict to an end. As part of the agreement, Finland was required to launch what became known as the Lapland War. From September to November 1944, Finland launched a military campaign against retreating German forces in the country’s northernmost area. Within this context we have “Sisu,” a word that has not literal English translation but is akin to a grim determination against adversity.
Gold prospector Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila, “Rare Exports”), with only his faithful dog and horse, is alone in the barren Lapland wilderness. Wanting nothing to do with the ongoing conflict, he digs pit after pit trying to strike it rich until one day, he hits the motherload. With a large amount of gold nuggets in his saddlebags, Aatami sets out on a long ride to the nearest town to cash in.
Unfortunately for Aatami, or perhaps more so for the Nazi soldiers, he encounters a 30-man platoon led by SS commander Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie, “Headhunters”). The Nazi officer lets Aatami pass without harm as he is more interested in joining the rest of the German army in Norway. However, when Aatami later encounters a small, second group of soldiers on the same trail, and kills them all after they try to take his gold, Bruno turns his men around to find out what the commotion is about.
Bruno’s chase of Aatami becomes an obsession as he realizes the Finn’s gold haul could be his ticket to escape the gallows once the war is over. The violence only escalates as we learn that Aatami was once a member of Finland’s special forces and was credited with killing hundreds of Soviet soldiers. Bruno and his men soon discover what sisu means.
Finnish writer and director Jalmari Helander (2010’s “Rare Exports”) has created a fun, albeit violent work of cinema set during a little-known period of World War II history. It does get ridiculous by the end and is often more unbelievable than watching John Wick survive a fall from a multi-story building. Tommila delivers solid, near-silent performance, but it is something we have seen multiple times from actors Clint Eastwood to Keanu Reeves. Hennie provide an interesting performance as a German officer who has resigned himself to his fate only to have a light at the end of the tunnel fall into his lap. Yet, even his character does not separate itself from the plethora of other Nazi officers seen depicted on the silver screen.
Overall, if you want to watch an almost equally violent World War II flick with a much better story and acting, then find “Inglourious Basterds” on your streaming service and watch it instead.
“Sisu” receives two-and-a-half stars out of five.

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