- Great action scenes
- Brutal kills
- Tight direction
- Beautiful cinematography
- Slow pacing
- Repetitive at times
Sisu is not only an ode to classic modern action films like Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick, but it’s able to separate itself as something else entirely thanks to its grit and dedication to its setting. The movie from Finnish director Jalmari Helander is a wild, awe-inducing journey of literal blood, sweat, and tears that will leave any action fan clamoring for more.
In Sisu, Helander shows a deft hand at action in moderation. The film, which clocks in at an efficient hour-and-a-half runtime, takes place in 1945, asthe Nazi regime is enacting a scorched-earth policy on Finland. Our protagonist, a Finnish ex-soldier named Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), who rarely speaks, strikes literal gold in Finland’s wilderness and must venture into the city to cash in his treasure. Things take a bloody turn for the worst, though, when a group of Nazis want to kill him and take his gold.
Much like Fury Road or John Wick: Chapter 4, Sisu‘s beauty is in its execution, not the intricacies of its plot. There’s rarely any dialogue at all, but there doesn’t need to be because Helander’s direction creates a tense, blood-pumping escapade full of outstanding action and stomach-churning gore. From land mines being hurled to throats getting slit underwater to a man intentionally lighting himself on fire, Sisu isn’t afraid of being outrageous with its action. The kills feel sudden, bloody, and almost comically gory, rather than choreographed dances of violence. It’s gritty and hard-edged; if you don’t want to see a horse’s exploded rib cage, this movie isn’t for you.
The action of Sisu stems from Aatami’s one-man battle against the Nazi squadron, who are characterized as the epitome of pure evil. Aatami is a war legend known by the Nazis and feared by all; he was nicknamed “The Immortal” due to his seeming inability to die. He has killed hundreds of Russian soldiers as a one-man army, and now he’s hell-bent on sending these Nazis to the next life. With Tommila’s wonderfully brutal performance as Aatami, viewers are introduced to an action hero who feels as if John Wick himself were dropped into the middle of World War II.
While Sisu‘s action is something that has to be seen to be believed, its willingness to slow down and mull over the setting is what separates it as a supremely unique survival thriller. Aatami is brutalized in every way imaginable by the Nazi horde, and Helander pulls no punches in showing the extent of his suffering. Yet, for as wild as the film’s action is, it’s almost startling how much Helander holds the camera to reminisce over the land. The Finnish director obviously finds the story to be a personal one, as his contempt for the Nazis is shown time and time again. What results is a Tarantino-esque story of revenge with a more personal twinge of justified hatred.
Helander’s touch is evident throughout the film, whether the action is heavy or not. The film, in fact, doesn’t begin with a wild set piece like many action films are tempted to do. Rather, it opens with an introduction to the land, to a man toiling away at his work in something akin to the opening of There Will Be Blood. Sisu‘s ability to let the viewer simmer on its contrasting imagery results in a unique piece of action filmmaking, one where blood, dirt, and dread are the primary filmic language. Wide shots hold on the beauty of Finland’s expansive, yet unforgiving region of Lapland, creating a contrast between the war-torn noises and flames. The film reminds me of Robert Eggers’ excellent 2022 viking movie The Northman, with its brutal imagery coinciding with a guttural soundscape.
At times, Sisu falls into its own trap of feeling a bit regimented and on -the nose about its own epic stature The film is split up into chapters, resulting in abrupt cuts along the storyline that, while may seem grand at times, frequently are more like an unnecessary flourish. It could also benefit from stronger pacing, as its quieter moments begin to toe the line between repetitive and effective as we near the final act of the film. Nevertheless, Sisu continually ups its own stakes and action, never letting the viewer down from another outrageous kill.
While Sisu isn’t a perfect film, it’s an efficient action flick for people who’ve already seen John Wick: Chapter 4 and want something a little bit different. It’s an adrenaline-fueled story of rage and revenge, and it proves to be a beautiful and fun, yet brutal historical romp to hell and back.
Sisu is currently in select theaters nationwide.
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