It’s the final days of World War II in northern Finland. A lone prospector (Jorma Tommila) has just struck his long sought after mother lode. He wants to take his bagfuls of gold to a bank in the decimated city of Helsinki and cash in. Unfortunately, it won’t be that easy.
There are pockets of Nazis who are implementing a scorched-earthed retreat out of the country and our hero prospector has just come face to face with them. They threaten to steal his gold and kill this mystery man.
However, there’s a catch! There’s always a catch. This prospector is not just an old man with a pickax, he is a legendary ex-commando by the name of Aatami Korpi. A one-man kill squad, who refuses to die and will relentlessly eliminate his Nazi foes, survive every imaginable deadly scenario he gets trapped in and take back his gold. He is determined to be the ultimate victor and to keep coming back no matter how violent, gory and action-packed things must get.
If you’re hoping to sit down and watch an intense WWII war drama, you’re going to be disappointed. Sisu is more Rambo than All Quiet on the Western Front. More Commando than Saving Private Ryan. The WWII setting and unkillable hero at the center of this grisly tale doesn’t resemble any kind of reality that you’d see in a documentary or read in a history book.
It’s not about the horrors of WWII. It’s an exaggerated action tale that stretches believability with it’s escalating action scenes and watching our hero miraculously survive increasingly deadlier and over-the-top predicaments. The believability gets incredibly stretched to the point that Sisu becomes a super heroic graphic novel. I’ve heard Sisu described as ‘John Wick in WWII’ – and that’s not too bad a comparison.
And it’s a whole lot of fun!
We meet Aatami (Jorma Tommila) alone digging in the middle of this worn torn country. He’s focused on his work. Sifting through mud and dirt in this flattened landscape. He’s unbothered by enemy aircraft flying overhead and burning cities around him. He only has his horse, his dog and his singular drive to find gold. Which he does!
Once his fortune is obtained he doesn’t plan on losing it, even when he encounters a platoon of Nazis led by their ruthless commander Helldorf (Aksel Hennie).
As the Nazis have been retreating out of the country, they’ve been laying waste to each town they pass through, killing civilians and kidnapping women.
This lone prospector doesn’t warrant their attention or time, until it’s discovered the riches he’s carrying. That gold will come in useful for Helldorf to bribe his way out of his war crimes. So he determines to kill him and steal his gold. He’s got a truck full of soldiers, massive artillery and a tank, this shouldn’t be problem.
Wrong! Aatami is able to survive and escape each encounter with these bad guys. He leads the Nazis through minefields, across rivers and racks up an increasing body count of every Nazi who gets near him. Helldorf learns that this man is a former commando who has become so legendary is known as ‘Koschei’ – the Immortal.
Aatami will live up to his mythic reputation and make these Nazis regret ever trying to bother him. He also helps a group of kidnapped women have their revenge on their Nazi captors. It all has a similar Tarantino-vibe where the story plays out like a wish fulfillment dream, where payback and justice is served swiftly and violently that we relish in watching.
Sisu is a basically a series of set pieces with Aatami getting cornered, trapped or in some cases seemingly killed, and somehow surviving. Even when it appears all is lost when he’s hanging from a noose and Helldorf begins making his way out of the country with the gold, Aatami readies himself to go after him and the convoy.
Director Jalmari Helander creates an entertaining violent and pulpy film. I only learned later he directed Big Game, the movie where President of the United States Samuel Jackson teams up with a Finnish boy to fight terrorists in the wilderness. I didn’t think that movie was too bad for what it was.
In Sisu he presents a desolate, bleak, grim battle torn landscape that looks ripe for death at every turn. There’s just as much mud and dirt as there is blood flowing across the screen. Extreme closeups of faces, weapons, gold nuggets help build the tension.
As Aatami goes through a chorus line of gruesome killings, it feels rather satisfying that these bad guys are getting what they deserve! Who are they to steal from this man who worked so hard to find that gold. Go get them all! Action fans will be very happy as the limbs begin to fly everywhere, bodies get mangled and blood splatters across the screen.
Hennie is an effective villain and his pack of subordinates serve as unlikable minions. As well as the captured women, who you want to see get the chance to turn the tables on their captors, but it’s Tommila that is the real star of Sisu.
He is very good. He’s the silent, strong-looking, weathered mystery man and when he stares down at his enemies he convinces you that everyone should be very scared of him. The guy looks like he’s gone through hell, but somehow patches himself up and continues on through just by his own force of will. You root for this immortal old man from start to finish.
Sisu is outrageous and gets pretty nonsensical. But it becomes so much fun that I never tried to question the logic of certain things. If you begin to question, “Hey, but how could he possibly….” stop yourself! Don’t worry too much about it. Just sit back and enjoy watching this tattered hero shred through the bad guys with total unflappable resolve.
The final battle with some airplane CGI doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the raw encounters that leads up to it. There’s still enough brutality in the final showdown to be satisfying and it’s understandable they had to make a flashier final confrontation between the Aatami and Helldorf, but I didn’t think it was as good as what came before. It really ends with an improbable situation that Aatami could brush himself off and walk away from.
Don’t be mistaken just because it’s a period film taking place during WWII, that the film resembles any kind of ‘true story’ or is even remotely a historical drama. Sisu is a straight forward, simple action movie. The story is so uncomplicated dialogue is barely even needed. Even the hero Aatami doesn’t utter a word until the final minute of the film. The film is broken up into chapters and their titles are enough to set the stage for the upcoming sequences.
This is a movie for fans who crave the days of old school action films. The ones who had a one-man-army like Arnold, Sly, Jean Claude, Chuck Norris. The unflappable action hero who fights against impossible odds, manages to beat the pulp out of bad guys, uses all manner of weapons to dispose of them and then stands triumphant in the end.
Sisu is a very well done action flick!