Principal Cast : Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila, Tatu Sinisalo, Wilhelm Enckell, Vincent Willestrand, Arttu Kapaulainen, Ikka Koivula, Joel Hirvonen, Severi Saarinen, Aamu Milonoff.
Synopsis: When an ex-soldier who discovers gold in the Lapland wilderness tries to take the loot into the city, Nazi soldiers led by a brutal SS officer battle him.
Kinetic, violent and gloriously decadent, Big Game director Jalmari Helander’s Finnish-set war film is an explosion of Nazi-killing fun. A gritty mixture of Tarantino’s fantasy wartime actioner Inglourious Basterds filtered through the lens of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western draped in dour, grimy Lapland landscapes, Sisu is a revenge thriller of body-shredding, gleefully sadistic violence that any fan of gratuity will guzzle like a babe at the teat. With numerous memorable scenes that will linger long in the memory (for a hundred different reasons), you would be an absolute fool to skip or miss this one, it’s an absolute belter.
Set in Lapland, north Finland in the latter stages of the Nazi retreat in 1944, a man prospecting out in the wilderness strikes the motherlode of gold. Wary of the Nazi threat, but seemingly unconcerned, the man takes as much gold as he can carry to the city to cash in – his path is crossed, however, by a platoon of Nazis engaging in their “scorched Earth” campaign across the region, and in a moment of vindictiveness, SS commander Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), who decides to kill him and take the gold for himself, as protection against the approaching defeat and ensuing retributions. What Helldorf doesn’t know, though, is that the man is a legendary Finnish commando, Aatami Korpi, said to have killed over 300 Russians in a one-man campaign earlier in the conflict as the horror of war took everything from him. Initially unafraid, Helldorf and his men pursue a fleeing Korpi across the Lapland landscape, although as they do so the Fin turns the tables and starts to kill members of the platoon in a variety of violent ways. In the midst of this carnage is a truck full of female hostages who have been ravaged by the Nazi troops, and all of whom are only to happy to turn the tables on their cruel captors.
At its core, Sisu is a film that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to be, and what it asks of the audience. A fantastical film only barely rooted in any kind of reality (apparently the character of Korpi, the renegade Finnish commando, was inspired by legendary WWII sniper Simo Hayha) the main impetus for this appears to be a cathartic obliteration of Nazis, a fist-pumping hell-yeah orgy of excessive carnage and bloodthirsty vengeance – well, not so much vengeance as determination, something the title of the film evokes. Sisu is a Finnish concept of grit and determination, mixed with stoicism, and as the film so beutifuly notes has no direct English translation – basically, it means that even in spite of overwhelming odds, you persevere beyond an almost inhuman level. To suggest Jorma Tommila’s Korpi is anything but resilient in Sisu is futile; the character puts himself through some torturous, literally death-defying feats of endurance, almost laughably so given how stylistically the film presents them, so the title of the film suites everything about this story.
As noted above, Sisu is a film that blends the violent garishness of Tarantino’s Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds, the crisp, widescreen style of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, and the flesh-shredding bloodthirstiness of modern war films, to the point the film’s score apes Morricone’s tonality and the title cards of Iginio Lardani, with Helandi’s bruising directorial flourishes continuing to excite as much as his previous work. There’s both a technical precision and a sense of unfettered flair to Sisu’s visual tone, Helandi’s bravura camerawork and Juho Virolainen’s sublime editing, not to mention the sublime cinematography from DP Kajel Lagerroos, that really lift the relatively bare story to one of contemporary wartime action masterpiece. This film should be considered in the same breath as 2023’s John Wick 4 or 2022’s Bullet Train, in my humble estimation, such is its evocative beauty and delirious hand-crafted violence.
Of course, an action film like this would be nothing without its cast, led by the stoic and mesmerising Jorma Tommila, as the “sisu” of the film. As Korpi, he has almost no dialogue whatsoever, giving his character depth only through a look, a glance, and a face of such diaphanous emotional construction you don’t really need him to say much. He absolutely kicks ass, takes a beating, should have died several times over, but still comes up trumps against his opposing number, the effortlessly nasty Nazi characters inhabiting the story. For their parts, the Nazis, played by a cruel and brutal Askel Hennie, are genuinely bad, personified by their treatment of a gaggle of female hostages they’re carting along and sexually abusing in degrading and depraved ways. Hennie chews the scenery as the evil Nazi squad commander and he makes a great – if blatantly ineffective – foil for the circumspect and determined Korpi. Watching Korip tear his way through the squad, using knives, guns, landmines (in of the the best sequences in the movie) and his own bare hands, is enthusiastically delivered through emotional resonance of the Nazi tropes, and the hapless German men seem to recognise they’re outgunned and being outplayed by what amounts to a Finnish ubermench.
Ludicrously plotted, completely unbelievable and almost always a joy to watch, Sisu’s violent, operatic aesthetic will appeal to anyone who hates Nazis, fascism and enjoys absolute assholes getting their comeuppance. As unsubtle as it’s possible for a film to be, Sisu’s action and over-the-top visuals will delight most despite not being as thematically deep as some might require – this is an adrenaline hit of a film that asks only that you suspend disbelief of how much a human body can withstand before dying, and if you can do that then this will be a masterpiece for you. If not, you’ll still have a grand old time watching a bunch of Nazi soldiers get the shit kicked out of them.