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Friday, December 8, 2023

Sisu Review

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Sisu will premiere in US theaters on April 28, 2023


How many more World War II movies can studios churn out? We know Nazis are bad, how the Axis powers fell, and significant historical events like D-Day have already been recreated on screen countless times. Luckily, writer and director Jalmari Helander has a clear approach to dipping back into WWII storytelling in his new film Sisu: brutalizing the bloody pulp out of Nazis using methods found in splatter-happy exploitation flicks. Helander keys into the gratification of watching a John McClane or Rambo hero type defy death's grasp as he bludgeons, explodes, and mutilates a roving company of genocidal German soldiers, forgoing historical accuracy as a kill-em-all standout that takes pleasure in creatively dismembering Nazi ranks. A premium is placed on righteous justice that still finds contemporary relevance as its angry messages ring clear as cannon fire.

The story follows Finish ex-commando Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), now a reclusive gold digger who runs into a Nazi problem while traveling with his latest haul of nuggets. Enter SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), his rogue convoy headed to Norway, and the astoundingly violent battle for Korpi's gold that ensues. Tommila joins the ranks of Liam Neeson and Bob Odenkirk as later-aged action stars who are still badass to the bone, while Hennie plays a vile Nazi villain as despicable as Hitler himself. Tommila rises to the challenge of embodying Korpi as this living legend who can hack, slash, and headshot his way through German goons, creating the same flavor of thrills as watching John Wick keep gun-fu-ing thugs after taking eleventy billion licks.

Finland's Lapland wilderness backdrops a desolate wasteland of dirt roads and rubble cities destroyed by Nazi forces, with the only color (outside grime and muck) coming from Korpi's shiny golden treasure. Shades of both 2014's Fury and Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead are present in Helander's vision as metallic war machines boom artillery shells while body parts tumble through the air to much excitement. Sisu emphasizes R-rated violence and wears Korpi’s scars proudly, turning the scorched-earth objective of German campaigns against Nazis, who’re now facing defeat and punishment.

Sisu is unabashedly 90 minutes of the good stuff with a wicked sense of celebration and Wild West grit.


There's nothing especially sprawling or complicated about Sisu – it is unabashedly 90 minutes of the good stuff with a wicked sense of celebration and Wild West grit. It's not as extravagant or grandiose as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, but very much enjoys being a hard-boiled 1940s revenge fantasy in all the right ways.

Tommila is a joy to watch as Korpi, the tenaciously vengeful warrior who refuses to die. Manners in which he dispatches Helldorf's troops range from graphic displays of assassinations with steel blades to hurled landmines that kaboom on impact, like Looney Tunes gone to war. Gore erupts from wounds in an almost comical yet always satisfying display as crimson juices splatter in all directions, whether from bullets exposing brains or severed limbs dropping to the ground. It's all very sensationalized, especially juxtaposed against Korpi's stony scowl as he dispatches multiple soldiers in a row without showing emotion. Helander knows what we want to see happen to these Nazi brutes, and charges guns-blazing into the cathartic retribution in Sisu as Helldorf's squad messes with the wrong one-man army.

He can defy gravity in stunts that even Ethan Hunt might consider an impossible mission.


Sisu is one of those action movies that requires a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. Splattery gore that drenches the camera in redness helps calibrate over-the-top tones that Helander plays for hoots and hollers. That also means Korpi survives what should be certain death by all manner of causes, from hangings to shrapnel wounds, or how he can defy gravity in stunts that even Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt might consider an impossible mission. Sisu can flash a goofier side as Korpi becomes more myth than man, but Helander leans so hard into the Nazi bashing of it all that it’s hard not to cheer on Aatami's superhuman spree. Tommila is no Keanu Reeves, but the way he’s able to bury his knife in a line of enemies while also flinging gunshots during fluid action choreography kicks around Wick comparisons that are only ever a compliment.

Sisu Photos

The glory of Sisu is that it's pure good-versus-evil in the most bone-crushing of executions. There’s no mincing of storytelling or visual payoffs. Jack Doolan introduces an immediate element of repulsion as his Nazi sidekick, Wolf, is first seen leaving a truck filled with hostage women while fixing his pants, which grants Mimosa Willamo's Aino a fulfilling arc as one of those held against her will. Sisu is Korpi's story to command as a master of carnage, but Aino's addition provides appreciated depth. There's more at stake beyond Korpi's faithful pup in terms of collateral damage (the dog is fine, don't worry). Who doesn't love seeing Nazis get their just desserts – especially when that red stuff isn't strawberry sauce?

Verdict

Sisu wages a hellacious war against familiar fascist henchmen with an added boost of against-all-odds adrenaline. Jalmari Helander proves that killing Nazis never goes out of style – as long as you’re willing to hit as hard as Sisu. Actor Jorma Tommila rages against a hateful German machine as Aatami Korpi with a heroicness fit for fable-like boogyman fantasies passed from one generation to the next. Helander keeps it simple and cranks the dial on intensity to produce an action-packed World War II epic that thrives on a smaller yet still decadent scale of destruction. We praise a tale of impossible might, unlimited mayhem, and a Nazi body count that sure isn’t stingy.

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