Sisu (2023)

Rating: B+

Dir: Jalmari Helander
Star: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo

Towards the end of World War II, the occupying German army are carrying out a scorched Earth policy on Finland, as they prepare to pull out. In the middle of nowhere, a platoon of soldiers under the command of SS officer Bruno Helldorf (Hennie) cross paths with taciturn gold-miner Aatami (Tommila), on his way to the city with a stash of nuggets. They let him go. The next group of Nazis up the road don’t. Big mistake. The second batch get wiped out, because Aatami is actually a former soldier, nicknamed “The Immortal”, who killed hundreds of Russians earlier in the war. Helldorf decides killing the legend will be a feather in his cap, and he could also use the gold carried by the local.

However, with Aatami now provoked into turning his attention to ze Germans, they have no idea of the fury which has been unleashed. They throw mines, tanks, machine guns and everything else they have at the Finn. But he earned his nickname for a reason, and fights back with a procession of inventive and savage violence. The sequence where he stumbles into a minefield is a good example. First he tosses rocks to set off mines and create a smoke-screen. Then he starts lobbing mines, with unerring accuracy, at the attackers. It is, you should understand, intentionally excessive, almost to the extent of being comic-book. At another point, he sets himself on fire to escape (top), plunges under water, then cuts a soldier’s throat and sucks air from the victim’s lungs. Yet the only moment that felt implausible was when the hero crawls away unscathed from a plane crash.

It’s not a mindless gore fest though. There’s decent characterization present, especially in telling Aatami’s story, without any exposition from the man himself (he says nothing until the very end of the movie: “Bills. Big ones, please. Won’t be so damn heavy to carry.”). It’s done with a combo of implied elements, like the scars we see on his body, and others who tell his story. One of the Nazi’s prisoners, Aino (Willamo), gets a glorious monologue outlining it, which ends with her declaring, “No matter what you bitches are trying, you will make him stronger. So what is so fucking funny, is that you, your boyfriend, and everything that is left of your sorry-assed company, are already dead.”

With the recent discovery of John Wick’s Eastern European ancestry, it feels like Sisu might operate in the same universe. If Aatami turned out to be John Wick’s uncle, I’d not be surprised, put it that way. It has the same inventive energy, as well as a hero that appears to have infinite hit points. And a dog. It’s certainly old-school in using Nazis as the villains. Inglourious Basterds was likely the last film I saw to glory in killin’ Krauts to this extent. This runs about an hour less, and is all the better for it, being as lean and sharply focused as it’s protagonist. Almost makes up for our disappointment at Finland not winning the Eurovision Song Contest.  Almost.