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Imagine a John Wick film – but set in 1944, during the Lapland War in Finland, with Wick being a badass Finnish commando, and the badguys – Nazis. Boom. Sisu, a straightforward action flick set during World War II, introducing a new unkillable tough guy to the screen.
Sisu, a Finnish co-production, in English, by the way, takes us to Finland during the waning days of WWII. The Nazis are embarking on a “scorched earth” policy as they leave the country, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake as they withdraw from Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland. We meet Aatami Korpi (played by Jorma Tommila), a silent, grizzled, older man who has had enough of the war. We don’t know too much about him, at first. He’s a gold prospector now – and he has an adorable dog. After striking it big during an arduous dig, it appears that Aatami’s hard work has paid off. Cash in and relax, right? Nah. He runs into a Nazi platoon led by a ruthless Nazi leader, Bruno, played by Aksel Hennie. One thing leads to another, and… this platoon – also holding Finnish women captive – they’re going to wish they had killed Aatami when they had the chance. Who am I kidding? Despite the numbers, the odds where always against them. As it turns out, Aatami appears to be borderline immortal.
The film is written and directed by Jalmari Helander, the Finnish filmmaker behind mainstream-esque Finnish exports such as the Samuel L. Jackson-starring Big Game and the take-down-Santa action-horror-comedy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Helander has long had a keen eye for blockbuster-style cinema and slick action – and he’s crafted a nice package to serve as his playground here.
The action is brutal and bloody, no doubt about it, but there’s a tongue-in-cheek humour throughout and a self-awareness that makes it a pretty fun ride. Death by landmine, knife through head, underwater throat cuts – I won’t give away more of the kills, but for those keen, there’s a variety of vicious punishments being dispensed to these baddies. And hey, Nazis – an easy target for villainy takedowns.
While the action is solid and the savagery ferocious, there was still a part of me that wanted… I don’t know, a little more. Maybe I’m too spoilt these days. Like I said, the film does go for the jugular, and has fun doing so, but there was part of me that wanted them to go harder, bloodier, wilder from the get-go. The film does have a build-up approach to the combat, which is understandable, although I felt like the ramped-up, over-the-top craziness of the last quarter was really needed earlier.
The film is held back slightly by uneven pacing. Since there really isn’t all that much of a plot here, it’s really down to the action beats to keep the momentum up. I’m not saying that it’s a sluggish film, only that I found too many sequences were not delivered with the type of intensity and breakneck speed that would have given them – and the overall film – more impact. Luckily, the film is a tight 90 minutes in length, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Jorma Tommila – who previously worked with director Helander on Big Game and Rare Exports – is fantastic as our tired, laughably hard-to-kill hero. With a weathered face and striking don’t-mess-with-me eyes, the Finnish actor makes for an imposing badass, with sympathetic qualities that makes it easy to root for him against the Nazis. Speaking of these bad guys, Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie (The Martian, Headhunters) is also very good as the lead antagonist.
The film also benefits from strong visuals and nice production design. Great work on display from Finnish cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos.
Sisu holds no pretence that it is anything more than a gritty action film, sprinkled with dark comedy, and nods to grindhouse/exploitation stylings that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. If you dig your brutal action and are after an undemanding adventure, this slickly crafted spaghetti western-style actioner should make for solid viewing.