“Sisu” (2022) – “My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.” – The Dragon says to Grendel in author John Gardner’s “Grendel” (1971)
In director/writer Jalmari Helander’s fabulous, entertaining midnight-madness flick, “Sisu”, the year is 1944 and nearly the close of WWII. He sets this story in Finland. The Moscow Armistice is signed, and Finland must remove the German military presence from their land.
For Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a Finn, he’s done with the war. This 60-something, gray-bearded loner now roams the desolate plains of the Finnish Lapland – along with his trusty horse and an adorable Bedlington Terrier – and searches for gold. Korpi’s ultimate goal is to live out his “golden years” with comfort and serenity.
However, his sparkling plans are temporarily halted when Aatami meets a well-armed platoon of Nazi soldiers – possibly 30 – complete with two trucks, a tank, and a Zundapp-looking motorcycle with an accompanying sidecar.
With the war entering its waning days, the film’s narrator explains that the Germans are destroying “all roads, bridges, villages, and towns in their path.”
Even though this rash force looks a bit winded, they are itching for a fight when they encounter Korpi, his horse, and pooch.
Thirty versus one. These marauders threaten and provoke Korpi, a man who now declares war on Commander Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) and his men.
Too bad for the Germans.
You see, our lead protagonist – who seems, at first, to be a pacifist – is a one-man killing machine, and he uses straight-up brutality and keen ingenuity to even the odds in his quest for survival while punching, kicking, stabbing, and slashing his adversaries to death.
Helander’s imagination conjures seemingly endless ways to exhibit brutal, visceral butchery but with uninhibited glee. This theatrical carnage-concert connects with its audience in a couple of ways.
In a Herculean physical role, Tommila delivers as the silent killer who primarily communicates with his fists and bloodlust. The pure visual of Korpi’s grandfatherly appearance masks his dangerous and deadly skills. When he first springs into action, it completely surprises the Germans and us. His continued and never-ending imaginative battleground methods will not cease to amaze over the film’s 85 minutes, a runtime that races by…in seemingly 45.
However, the movie isn’t all gunplay and fisticuffs because “Sisu” has some sedate minutes, but they are equally as compelling. For instance, Korpi stops roaming the countryside during one scene to sew up and cauterize his wounds in a hypotonic moment of machismo that would make John J. Rambo stand up and applaud.
By and large, the pacing of “Sisu” moves so quickly because it doesn’t get bogged down in exposition. From the get-go, Tommila starkly draws up sides, so we immediately land on a foundation of villains versus the lone hero (although, please note, Korpi finds some well-placed allies on his trek) that has a feel of an old-school western. There are no broader issues to ponder because this superb, illustrious spectacle concocts an array of carefully constructed sequences that reveal themselves one after another.
There is no time to think…just absorb.
Absorb the cartoonish, physics-defying violence – with high production values – that brilliantly feels like a Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner episode-John Wick flick mashup.
“Sisu” is only missing the on-screen onomatopoeia from the “Batman” (1966 – 1968) television show with its delightful displays of “Pow!”, “Whammm!”, and “Splat!”
Still, Korpi and his lethal deeds speak for themselves in a unique action film that pays off in spades with twisted, rip-roaring bloodbath-moments.
Just remember, the ace of spades is the death card.
3.5 out of 4 stars
Directed and written by: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, and Mimosa Willamo
Runtime: 85 minutes
Image credits: Lionsgate