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Sisu – Film Review

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sisu film review
sisu film review

As we’re told from the opening moments, the Finnish word ‘Sisu’ means ‘extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity’. This was never going to be a period romance: instead, it’s a steely eyed grindhouse feature that revels in violence and badassery. It’s for people who might think that John Wick is on the tame side. 

Imagine the tail-end of the Second World War as the German forces are faltering. A pact between the Finns and the Russians mean that the Finns are obliged to harry and push out any remaining Nazis from their borders. Reluctantly, the Germans are retreating – torching, pillaging and defacing everything in their wake. The Germans know they are doomed, likely to hang once the allies send them to trial, so a sense of nihilism hangs in the air. 

Into this melting pot comes Aatami, an ex-soldier in the Finnish army. He’s abandoned his country for the prospect of gold, panning for it within the mountains of his country. As luck should have it, he finds some – lots of some – and packs the saddlebags of his horse and heads for the bank. Heaven knows why he doesn’t sit out the last moments of the war and try the pilgrimage when bombers aren’t flying about, but hey. It would be a shorter movie if he did. 

With balls of steel, he strides past a panzer of Germans including an SS officer, tank and APC with innocent Finnish women inside, and it looks like they might let him go. But then he passes the stragglers of said panzer who decide that, yep, they will check the saddlebags, and lo and behold they come across the gold. 

Before this moment, Sisu was artful and we wondered whether we were going to get a picturesque indie journey through the meadows of Finland. But there’s no doubting what kind of movie Sisu is from this point on. Aatami dispatches the troops in a fury of blood and pickaxes, without cutaways. Sisu is unflinchingly bloody and brutal, somewhere between Bone Tomahawk and the Wick series, and it’s got no qualms about racking up a body count of nazis. 

The plot, if you can call it that, then becomes something of a cat and mouse, as the remainder of the panzer division chase after Aatami, his horse and his dog. Think Mad Max Fury Road, but slower and with a protagonist who simply refuses to die. Honestly, the man must be made of boomerang wood as he keeps coming back. 

Fans of the genre will get exactly what they are looking for from Sisu. Its action sequences are prolonged and verging on the ridiculous (a landmine is used imaginatively and in a way that we’re not sure makes physical sense), while Aatami accumulates enough wounds that you could start an involved drinking game. Hold the cup with the body part that gets shot? We’re tempted to write and laminate it ourselves. 

Jorma Tommila infuses Aatami with a kind of resignation, as you wonder whether he is trying to avoid conflict for fear of death, or fear that he will cause too much death himself. In the Nazi corner is Aksel Hennie, who manages to wring something like empathy out of his horrid Bruno. You understand the motivation to get the gold, as it would be a key to bribing himself out of a hanging. It’s completely understandable, even as he is heinous. 

Where Sisu loses its path is in its mythologising. All of these human touches get lost once Sisu gets the idea of turning Aatami into a mythological figure. Suddenly, he’s a boogeyman who everyone knows and fears, and that has a knock-on effect to the stakes. We didn’t feel like he was really killable from that point on. He became a Grim Reaper stalking the Nazis, and any emotional attachment we had to him kind of melted away. It didn’t help that there was a lack of doubt about whether he was that myth. Everyone seems to accept it with a visible gulp caught in their throat.

But there’s so much fun to be had in Sisu – a thoroughly unbelievable and unlikely fun – that the issues largely wash off. This is a revenge movie, where the reason for the revenge keeps changing. Is it the gold? The dog? The slight against his reputation? The women in the APC? Sisu doesn’t need an excuse – not really. It’s got a trained killer against an entire German panzer division, and that’s more than enough to be working with. 

Sisu doesn’t truck with subtlety. Don’t be tricked by its Finnish origins and beautiful vistas. This is shock and gore. There’s a history lesson in there, but mostly you’ll be whooping as yet another Nazi explodes into a column of entrails.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Gloriously shot
  • Constant, inventive violence
  • Game performances all round
Cons:
  • The mythologising falls flat
  • Not much subtlety about it
  • Could be too gruesome for some
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 31mins | 2023
  • To rent/buy - £3.49 / £11.99 SD, £4.49 / £13.99 HD, £7.99 / £17.99 HD
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Gloriously shot</li> <li>Constant, inventive violence</li> <li>Game performances all round</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>The mythologising falls flat</li> <li>Not much subtlety about it</li> <li>Could be too gruesome for some</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 31mins | 2023 <li>To rent/buy - £3.49 / £11.99 SD, £4.49 / £13.99 HD, £7.99 / £17.99 HD</li> </ul>Sisu - Film Review
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