The Movie Waffler New to VOD - SISU | The Movie Waffler

New to VOD - SISU

New to VOD - SISU
A Finnish prospector makes an enemy of a Nazi officer desperate for his gold.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jalmari Helander

Starring: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Onni Tommila, Mimosa Willamo

Sisu poster

If there's one lesson to be taken from the history of European warfare, it's "Don't fuck with Finland." If you're thinking of invading that country, well…just don't. Many have tried and failed, thinking its small population would roll over, only to find these are some of the hardest bastards you could possibly come up against. The title of writer/director Jalmari Helander's WWII action fest Sisu refers to a Finnish term that some opening text (and later a character) tells us can't be directly translated to any other language but roughly means a form of courage and determination that knows no bounds.

Helmander was inspired by stories of Simo Häyhä, a Finnish soldier credited with killing no less than 500 Russian soldiers during the Winter War of 1939-40 (seriously, DON'T INVADE FINLAND!!!). But his greatest inspiration would seem to be a childhood spent watching classic action movies. Sisu is ostensibly a war movie but owes more to spaghetti westerns and the Die Hard template of one tough bastard making life hell for a bunch of bad guys.

Sisu review

The tough bastard here is Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), who like Häyhä, killed hundreds of Russians in the Winter War. In this case however his bloodshed wasn't motivated by patriotism but by revenge for the murder of his family. It's 1944 and Finland has called a truce with Russia in exchange for expelling the Germans from the country. While retreating, the Nazis are employing a scorched earth policy, leaving villages burning and men hanging from telephone poles in their wake. Aatami has decided to leave the war behind and pan for gold in remote Lapland. In a sequence that seems inspired by the silent opening of There Will Be Blood, we watch as Aatami initially finds a nugget of gold as small as a breadcrumb, only to stumble across a massive deposit of the shiny stuff buried underground.

Aatami packs the gold into a satchel and heads for the nearest town with his horse and dog for company. He just wants to keep his head down, but wouldn't you know, he only goes and runs into a platoon of Nazis, lead by the ruthless Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie). Discovering this old prospector possesses a fortune in gold, Helldorf becomes determined to steal the prospector's loot, but finds the old man a formidable adversary.

Sisu review

Sisu has the gritty look of a spaghetti western, and even the bleakness of Come and See in its darker moments, but at its heart it's a boy's own romp ripped from the pages of 1980s comics like Battle and Warlord, or whatever their Finnish counterparts were. Practically everyone we meet is a cartoon character, from our seemingly immortal hero to the Nazis, who take pleasure from being absolute wankers, as obsessed with trying to kill Aatami's little dog (the schweinhunds) as in stealing his gold. They've also got a truck loaded with young women they've captured along the way, which later leads to a Mad Max: Fury Road style revolt as Gerry learns Finland's women are as tough as its men. Similarly cartoonish are the over-the-top scenarios Helmander devises, some of which are uniquely inventive. Yet the director somehow finds a way to blend grit and spectacle in a way that never feels like a clash of tones. It helps that Nazis are an action filmmaker's gift – one look at the sneering blue eyes of Helldorf and his SS uniform and we're immediately onboard with whatever pain Aatami will ultimately inflict upon him.

With an almost wordless performance, the steely-eyed Tommila makes for a perfect spaghetti western leading man, handsome in a grizzled way and able to convey a recent history of hurt in brief tender moments, like how he strokes his wedding ring or says goodbye to his dead horse. But most importantly you believe that he's the sort of person you really, and I mean REALLY, don't want to fuck with. Aatami is put through the ringer here, amassing a catalogue of physical wounds through his journey, which he patches up in the most painful manner, and Tommila's face really sells the titular concept of pressing on through sheer willpower.

Sisu review

While Sisu may have a broad setup that relies on a well-worn cliché, that of the ex-military man reluctantly pressed back into employing his particular set of skills, Helmander is a filmmaker that has shown in his short career that he likes to subvert tropes. His previous film, 2014's Big Game, took the screen persona of Samuel L. Jackson and turned it on its head. Helmander has fun subverting our notions of how movies like this play out by setting up familiar characters and scenarios, only to pull the rug out from under our expectations.

Save for a late sequence involving a plane, in which the movie's relatively grounded storytelling gives way to Hollywood hokum, Sisu employs old school filmmaking, filled with practical effects that go a long way to hammering home the visceral nature of combat. The violence is intense, with body parts flying through the air and knifes and bullets cutting through heads like a hot knife through a block of cheddar. But it's always fun, because it's Nazis who are on the receiving end. You have to feel a bit sorry for Germany, a country that has tried so hard to distance itself from its history without forgetting it, but Nazis will continue to be the bad guys in war movies for decades to come. That said, there's something a little duplicitous about Sisu's flag-waving, anti-Nazi narrative, given how Finland gladly allied itself with Germany until it saw which way the wind was blowing. History is written by the winners I guess, but don't let that uncomfortable truth ruin what is a very fun action romp, a rare modern movie you could watch with your dad.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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