Sisu – movie review

Bloodlust features prominently in Sisu, an anarchic actioner, set towards the end of WWII.

It is 1944. Finland has signed an armistice with the Soviet Union and the Germans are in full retreat. However, the Nazis have adopted a scorched-Earth policy, destroying everything in their wake. A legendary Finnish warrior – Aatami (Jorma Tommila) – has checked out of the conflict and is prospecting for gold in the country’s north. He has with him his horse and dog. As luck would have it, he strikes it rich. But with the precious metal in his saddle bag, he encounters a small column of Nazis led by Bruno (Aksel Hennie).

Aatami manages to see his way clear of the invaders, before coming face to face with others. A brutal battle follows, with Aatami proving to be a killing machine on steroids – creative and highly adaptable. The noise attracts the attention of Bruno and his squad, who track Aatami relentlessly, ignoring orders to abandon their hunt. Bruno is determined to get his hands on the gold because it may be his ticket to freedom, for he recognises that without it his fate is sealed. Of course, Aatami has other ideas and with remarkable resourcefulness he manages to fend off his attackers time and again. He navigates being blown up, shot, hanged … and more. On the ground, in the water and in the air, he is forever adding to his already legendary status.

Finnish writer-director Jamari Helander has tapped into an appetite for the deliciously outrageous.  Sisu is a blood-soaked hoot, a splatter fest with comic undertones. It is atmospheric and triumphant. While there is no direct translation for the Finnish word “sisu”, the former commando embodies its essence. He represents a white-knuckle form of courage and unimaginable determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

Part of the beauty of the film is that Aatami is such an unlikely hero, an older dude who simply wants to be left alone. As the script develops, we come to understand that he lost his family and home to the Russians and emerged as a ruthless, vengeful soldier. He becomes a one-man death squad – regarded as immortal – with more than 300 kills to his name. He is clearly a man not to be messed with and yet Bruno is willing to take him on.

Jorma Tommila does a fine job portraying the grizzled Aatami, whose actions speak louder than words.  The key questions asked of the hero are when and how he will he get his comeuppance. As an involved audience member, I was willing him on, metaphorically standing beside him all the way. I kept wondering how he would navigate his next “scrape” and the one after, and the one after that. Aksel Hennie’s disparaging, disagreeable demeanour and supercilious scowl make him a strong if permanently flawed adversary. At one time, we’d be booing him.

Although the film’s premise is clearly preposterous, Sisu is a wild and enjoyable ride. If you view this as the equivalent of a graphic novel or violent video game, you’ll likely have as much fun with Sisu as I did.

Alex First

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