Gorily Riotous Sisu an Action-Filled Dream
During the latter stages of WWII, a Finnish prospector (Jorma Tommila) finds a fortune in gold. On a trek to transport it across Lapland to civilization, he encounters a small battalion of German troops making their way in the opposite direction. They are led by the determined Bruno (Aksel Hennie), a grizzled veteran who thought he and his men had seen everything the war had to offer. They were wrong.
This lonely old prospector isn’t who he appears to be. He’s Aatami Korpi, a man whose myth has become the sort of tale Finns tell their children in hushed whispers to convince them to behave. Decades prior, his village was wiped out by the Russians, including his entire family. Korpi went on a one-man rampage that resulted in a body count somewhere approaching three hundred. It’s not that he’s superhuman — it’s that he refuses to die, and Bruno is going to rue the day he decided to try and take this man’s gold.
There are plenty of comparisons one could make regarding Sisu. First Blood, of course. Westerns like Pale Rider, Valdez Is Coming, and Chato’s Land. Even with the WWII setting, John Wick is also an obvious one. Moreover, it’s not as if writer-director Jalmari Helander is going out of his way to conceal the influences that inspired his latest film, and when the result is this entertaining, there’s not a single thing wrong with that whatsoever.
After the rambunctious, plot-heavy, and dialogue-driven genre theatrics behind the director’s acclaimed Rare Exports and the goofily endearing Big Game, what I loved here is that — for all the explosions, severed limbs, slit throats, machine gun fire — this is almost a silent picture. It’s cut and shot in a fashion that would make Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and King Vidor cheer, and that’s every bit as terrific as it sounds.
Tommila was born to play Korpi. Helander’s go-to actor (who made memorable impressions in both Rare Exports and Big Game) gets the starring role this time around, and he does not disappoint. Since he never utters a word, Tommila must do all the emotional heavy lifting with his physicality and facial expressions. Korpi can be monstrous. He can be heartbroken. He can show joy, resilience, terror, and fury, often in the same scene over the course of a handful of seconds. It’s a marvelous performance, one far more complicated and dexterous than the casual viewer may believe possible.
Hennie matches him as the film’s villain. There’s no such thing as a lovable Nazi, and that’s certainly the case with Bruno. Hennie chews the austere Lapland scenery with determinedly withered aplomb. Even as the German’s eyes look like they are about to pop right out of his head as he watches Korpi do one extraordinary thing after another, his vile, uncouth anger toward the world around him never fades. The actor allows it to simmer there, right under the surface, so by the time Bruno finally lets his rage explode into the open, this animalistic fury gives the climax a glorious layer of gonzo bravado that’s sadistically sublime.
The whole thing is a slice of violent pulp fiction, and although there are echoes of John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it isn’t like Helander is treating what happens to Korpi with that level of seriousness. Some of the bigger set pieces noticeably work better than others, and a pivotal sequence right near the end, aboard an out-of-control cargo plane, is oddly underwhelming when compared to all of the action sequences that came before it.
Not that this dilutes any of the fun. Watching Korpi tear a Nazi battalion limb by limb — warring against an armored tank with nothing more than a pickax and using landmines as lethal frisbees — is wonderful. Helander handles the explosively hyperreal theatrics with confidence, and it shows in every frame. While Korpi is a nightmarish demon to this film’s German antagonists, for everyone else, Sisu is blood-splattered dream action that aficionados won’t want to wake from.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)