Directed by: Jalmari Helander
Premise: Set in Finland at end of World War II, a gold prospector (Jorma Tommila) must defend his find and his life against a squad of Nazis.
What Works: Sisu is a super soldier action movie. It draws on the war genre and westerns with elements of the action pictures of the 1980s, bringing these elements into contemporary action moviemaking. The filmmakers demonstrate an understanding of how and why these kinds of movies work. Sisu has a masculine appeal in which action drives the story and adversaries are bested by strength and craftiness. This movie features a survivalist character facing off against Nazis and the filmmakers use their villains well. Nazis are a go-to villain at the movies because it’s easy for audiences to take pleasure in seeing them get killed. That’s certainly the case in Sisu but the filmmakers do an effective job establishing these particular Nazis as villains within the context of the story. They attack our protagonist, even shooting at his dog, and are revealed to be trafficking female captives. It’s enough to create a righteous rage of the part of the hero and the audience which allows us to enjoy the violence. Jorma Tommila plays Aatami, a man who served in the Winter War conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union, and he’s just trying to get by with World War II ending in the background. Tommila is quite good. He has a masculine appeal similar to Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tommila has almost no dialogue. It’s a physical performance and we get a sense of who Aatami is by his gait and movement. Sisu is a brutal but beautiful film. The violence is gritty and vicious but it’s staged with a sense of showmanship. Sisu is well shot by Kjell Lagerroos. The picture makes very effective use of the landscape and the movie has a cold and stark look that complements the violence but also creates the sense that this is a folktale.
What Doesn’t: Most of Sisu has an intimate scale with Aatami fighting Nazis in hand-to-hand combat or setting credible traps. The filmmakers go bigger in the end and as a result Sisu loses some of the immediate, primal qualities that serve the rest of the movie so well. The women of Sisu are not so well characterized. They are given things to do and contribute meaningfully to the story but the women are mostly interchangeable. Compare these women to the female characters of Mad Max: Fury Road who also had limited characterization but were given personal moments and character design that distinguished each of them.
Disc extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: Sisu is a well-made action picture. It’s a little light on character but it is an impressive and well-crafted exercise in action filmmaking.
Episode: #973 (November 12, 2023)