‘Sisu’ Review: This Fun and Gory Riff on ‘Fury Road’ Pits a Grizzled Finnish Man Against a Bunch of Nazis

A “they pissed off the wrong guy” movie so pure and simple that its sub-genre almost doubles as a plot synopsis, Jalmari Helander’s “Sisu” is basically what might happen if someone transplanted “Fury Road” into Finland, lost 90 percent of what made that film into an unrepeatable force of nature, and tried to make up the difference by exploding as many Nazis as possible in outrageously violent fashion.

If you think that sounds like a decent trade-off for 91 minutes’ worth of brainless midnight fun, then I’ve got some good news for you: “Sisu” does exactly what it says on the tin.

Straightforward and unpretentious to the point that its hero doesn’t isn’t even afforded dialogue — let alone a meaningful character arc — this is the kind of movie that starts with a tank fighting a gold miner before escalating to “Dr. Strangelove” levels of destruction. “All killer, no filler” would be a wildly generous way of describing Helander’s latest bid for an international breakout (previous efforts include the fun Christmas chiller “Rare Exports” and the “fun” Samuel L. Jackson vehicle “Big Game”), but “some killer, some filler” is enough to get the job done when that job is liquifying Nazis into geysers of thick CGI blood.

“Sisu” wastes no time setting proper expectations for the smooth-brained thrill ride to come. First, Helander’s film kicks off with a definition of its untranslatable title (“Sisu” is a local term for the sort of impossible courage and determination that a person is able to summon when all hope is lost), and some maps to establish proper context for its setting (the year is 1944 and the Nazis are being forced out of Finland, but they’re wreaking as much havoc as they possibly can as they slouch to the border).

Then — in a bit of brute-force storytelling so blunt that it lends this silly movie a vaguely mythic veneer — Helander busts out some trailer-ready voiceover to set his story in motion. “Deep within the wilderness of Lapland,” the narrator intones, “there is a man who has decided to leave the war behind him, for good.”

Like most of the words spoken in Helander’s unapologetic bid for international attention, this voiceover is delivered in deeply accented English; while the barrier of subtitles may only be one inch tall, scaling it would force American audiences to put in more work than any other part of this film requires of them. Then again, stabbing Nazis in the head might be the closest thing this planet has to a universal language.


And let’s be clear, the aforementioned man — a bearded gold prospector named Aatami Korpi, played by Jorma Tommila in a performance that feels like a cross between Daniel Plainview and John Wick, complete with an adorable canine companion — stabs an absolute scheiße-ton of Nazis. But that’s only because they force his hand. A grizzled old veteran who retired from the Nazi-stabbing business after the bloodshed followed him home (the character’s backstory is so basic that “Sisu” hardly bothers to fill it in), Aatami has lost interest in the war by the time the film begins. He now spends his days panning around Lapland’s primordial bronze fields in search of the motherlode that might buy him a better life, and the bombers that fly overhead show him the same apathy that a drifting rain cloud might show to a rock.

When Aatami finds what could be the most comically oversized gold deposit in film history, his only thought is to get it to the nearest bank before anyone can steal it from him. Alas, he walks smack into Immortan Bruno’s (Aksel Hennie) sad Nazi convoy — a line of vehicles full of weapons, booze, and abducted Finnish war brides — and the disgraced German leader immediately recognizes Aatami’s fortune as his passport to a country where he and his men won’t be hanged for their war crimes. It does take Bruno a little while (and a lot of casualties) to figure out that Aatami is a local legend known for his inability to be killed, but “Sisu” is happy to offer its villain a generous heaping of teachable moments.

The action is spare but absurdly visceral, and each of the film’s various chapters — which boast instructive titles like “Minefield” — highlight a different and increasingly demented kind of murder. A semi-realistic scuffle in which Aatami beats several Nazis to death with a metal helmet gives way to an underwater fight sequence so absurd that I half-expected to see Aquaman swim through the background.

A more gradual evolution of Aatami’s mythic nature might have prevented “Sisu” from sagging through a damp middle act that separates the “grounded” action of the opening chapters from the cartoon mayhem of its climactic ones, but Helander shoots the carnage with just enough creativity to ensure that every setpiece has its own unique lifeforce. Hard as it is to care about what’s happening, it’s always perfectly easy to understand, and the spartan nature of Helander’s storytelling allows the film’s violence to emerge as its primary form of expression until the Pollock-like spatters of Nazi blood that erupt from each of Aatami’s victims assume a narrative dimension of their own.

Legible choreography also helps to cut through the gray digital pall that’s draped over so many cost-conscious action films in the CGI era. There’s no color to the night-time scene in which Aatami manages to slip out of a noose, for example, but Helander squeezes a few sick drops of flesh-oozing fun from every little detail of his hero’s desperate escape.

The chase sequence that later reinvigorates “Sisu” down the home stretch is so indebted to “Fury Road” that Lionsgate should probably give George Miller some percentage of every ticket sale, but there’s no use complaining about glorified “Mad Max” cosplay when it allows for a giddily satisfying close-quarters tank fight that privileges slapstick over spectacle. Even at just 91 minutes “Sisu” might still be overextended for something that essentially amounts to a one-note joke with a mega-ton punchline, but if Helander is able to accomplish this much with this little, perhaps there’s reason to hope that someone in Hollywood will finally give him the chance that he seems to be auditioning for with every film he makes.

Grade: C+

Lionsgate will release “Sisu” in theaters on Friday, April 28.

Source: Read Full Article

Previous post ‘Very naughty’ Elton John remembers John Lennon ‘whirlwind romance’
Next post Emmerdale’s Mary is left for dead as Faye reveals her true nature in sinister twist