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If You Want to Watch Nazis Get Savagely Killed for 90 Minutes, ‘Sisu’ Is for You

By Sara Clements | Film | May 1, 2023 |

By Sara Clements | Film | May 1, 2023 |


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Sisu is a rhapsody of action cinema about one man who refuses to die. In many ways, it feels like a predecessor to John Wick. We are introduced to Sisu’s ex-commando and Keanu Reeves’s legendary hitman after they have left their violent pasts behind. They are both widows and men of few words who live a solitary existence with their adorable canines (luckily, no dogs die this time). Sisu’s Aatami (Jorma Tommila) is described as “one mean motherfucker,” and the same can be said for John Wick. They are vengeful soldiers with scars to prove it. These one-man death squads aren’t to be messed with, and if you do, they’ll strike like the boogeyman — in the shadows before the enemy can even pick up a weapon. Despite character similarities and John Wick-style brutality, writer-director Jalmari Helander’s dark and violent Finnish action film makes its own mark. Set in Finland in 1944, Sisu is a white-knuckle thrill ride with a high Nazi death count.

The end of WWII is near. The Nazis are scorching the earth as they make their retreat out of Finland. Deep in the gorgeous, multicolor wilderness of Lapland is Aatami who decided to leave the war for good. With his dog and horse companion, this stoic, grizzled man is living out the last days of the war as a prospector. As warplanes fly above him in deafening formation and the orange blast of explosives lights the distant sky, he remains undeterred in his quest for gold. When he succeeds at finding a mound of the glittering mineral, it signifies a new beginning for him, and it’s not something he’ll give up without a fight. It’s only a matter of time before the war catches up with him, though. Setting the tone of what’s inevitably to come is a perfect action score, which mixes Nordic folk music and adds a hard rock edge. Not only faithful to its setting, but it’s also faithful to its time period. When Aatami crosses paths with the devilish, sneering faces of Nazi soldiers, the sound of an air raid siren is mixed in. It’s a warning for the Nazis, as they make the mistake of stealing his gold. To get back what’s rightfully his, Aatami begins a gloriously brutal killing spree, eliminating every Nazi who tries to mess with him in a showcase of gleefully satisfying violence and thrilling action.

Sisu is a visually stunning and grippingly executed survival story of one man taking on a whole army. As the film explains, “Sisu” is a Finnish word that can’t be translated. It’s used to describe a person of immeasurable courage and determination. This is seen in the lengths his character goes to finish the job, creating some pretty insane moments throughout the film. He puts his body through the wringer, and it’s not always easy for him. Supporting players like Nazi Obersturmführer Helldorf (​​Aksel Hennie) pose quite a challenge. The framing of close hand-to-hand combat can be pretty unsteady and hard to see at times, but otherwise, the action is fantastic.

While Tommila gets his memorable closing line, he doesn’t speak at all throughout the film, opting for a threatening grunt instead. As exposition is often created through dialogue, here we learn more about his character through visuals and sound work. A shot of his body as he bathes makes the audience understand that he’s been in many battles; a close-up of his ring finger shows he once had a family. There’s also a moment where he reflects on his past. In this scene, distressed voices and screams are heard to emphasize his loss and to explain his need for revenge.

Sisu is a mix of all the best elements of revenge, action, and war films, and where you can watch Nazis get savagely knifed, shot, and blown up for 90 minutes. It’s one of those movies that reminds you why you love going to the movies. It’s pure mindless entertainment of the best kind.