As WWII rages overhead and in the distance, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila, "Rare Exports") prospects for gold in the Lapland. To his astonishment, he hits a motherlode and begins the long journey back to civilization, keeping his cool as he rides past Nazi troops in two trucks and a tank. But when he is stopped in a second, smaller encounter and his precious cargo discovered, the three Nazis determined to kill both him and his dog will learn the meaning of the untranslatable Finnish word “Sisu.”
Laura's Review: B+
From the delightfully warped mind of “Rare Exports” writer/director Jalmari Helander comes a comically violent genre mashup about a legendary Finnish ex-commando known as The Immortal because of his absolute refusal to die. In the film’s opening text scrawl, we learn that ‘Sisu’ means a white knuckle form of courage when the stakes seem overwhelming and, as embodied by Korpi, it’s characterized with both cunning and skill. The film may be set during WWII, but its ‘Man With No Name’ protagonist and score by Juri Seppä ("Rare Exports") and Tuomas Wäinölä with its twang and male chorus signal a Western while threats and violence against women and animals tip it into horror, albeit of the cartoonish variety. Several killings are so deviously vicious and abrupt, against all reason you may laugh out loud.
Although the film is Finnish, Helander admirably needs little dialogue to tell his tale and so most of it is in English (the film only reverts to subtitles in its last two chapters when Finnish soldiers and citizens not engaging with Nazis enter the picture). There are seven brief chapters, each presented in the type of bold, gold fonts Tarantino might favor and by the end of the second, those in the two trucks (one of which hides a group of Finnish women kept for their ‘amusement’) and the tank have circled back and discovered their five dead comrades, Obersturmfuhrer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie, "The Martian") noting a big chunk of gold by a corpse’s hand and remembering that guy who passed them on a horse. They will catch up and dispatch Korpi’s ride with extreme overkill. In Chapter 3, Minefield, the games begin in earnest, despite Helldorf having been warned of Korpi’s history and told he’s ‘gotten off easy’ with only seven of his men killed.
Cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos, who establishes the remoteness of the early action with a drone shot over the barren expanse of Lapland, alternates between long shots and more intimate action, the script challenging him to go underwater and up into the air. One stunt right out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” will connect Korpi with Aino (Mimosa Willamo), the ‘leader’ of the kidnapped women who proves a most resilient and resourceful ally. Tommila, who resembles a more compact version of the current, bearded Schwarzenneger, remains resolute, expressing anguish only as he staples, stitches and sterilizes wounds, companionable with faithful Bedlington Ukko, who has his own brushes with the Nazis. Hennie gradually dials down Helldorf’s confidence, fear visible in his eyes after several grueling rounds with his nemesis. The film also stars Jack Doolan as Helldorf’s right hand Wolf and Tommila’s son Onni, who played his son in “Rare Exports,” as one of Helldorf’s men.
“Sisu” is a sheer blast, an escalating standoff executed with impish invention.
Robin's Review: B+
A grizzled and bearded man (Jorma Tommila) pans for gold in the forbidding landscape of Finnish Lapland and discovers the mother lode. He packs his rucksack full of the precious rocks and starts the long and arduous journey back to civilization. Then, he encounters an advance Nazi recon team and they want his gold. This begins a one-man war by the former commando to protect his valuable cargo in “Sisu.”
Every so often a movie comes around and my partner and fellow film critic, Laura, just knows I will like it. “Sisu” is one of those films. The term is specifically Finnish and means “courage and extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity.” Boy, does that sound like something up my alley or what?
As the story is set into motion and the lines are drawn and crossed, we learn from the Germans that their prey is an ex-Finnish commando made famous as the single-handed killer of hundreds of Russian soldiers during their Winter War. He earned the name the Immortal for his deadly exploits. Of course, the members of the Master Race dismiss the stories as myth. Big mistake!
What follows is a war of wills as the lone fighter takes on the many Germans who want his gold. As I watched the loner’s skills kick into high gear, I was thrilled by the imagination that went into the depicted mayhem. It is stylish, extremely violent and deadly and, for a fan of war movies and action thrillers, amusing as hell in its invention. Think “John Wick” to get an idea of the level of the well-choreographed killing in “Sisu.”
Of course, you want the hero to best the bad guys and, no spoiler here, he does. What is both amusing and provoking is just how imaginative the mayhem really is – like using a land mine as a hand grenade. I have to warn that this movie pulls no punches with its level of warfare and violence and not for the faint of heart. For the rest of us, have fun!
Lionsgate released "Sisu" in select theaters on 4/28/23. It is available on VOD on 5/16/23.