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Sisu goes for the jugular in a stunningly well-crafted tale of one man who refuses to die when confronted with a caravan of Nazis during World War II.

Raiders of the Lost Gold

Jorma Tommila as Aatami Korpi
Jorma Tommila as Aatami Korpi

It’s said “Sisu” is a Finnish word that doesn’t have a direct English translation, but, as the movie’s opening title cards suggest, it’s roughly equivalent to “white-knuckled courage when all hope is lost.”

That level of courage is on display in a guy named Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila). He’s a war veteran, a commander in rank, with a remarkable backstory. Aatami’s family was murdered by the Russians. In return, the Russians have felt his wrath (more than 300 of their number went to the grave on his account) and his penchant for meting out his own brand of swift, grisly justice has grown to legend status. He’s described as a one-man death squad. He’s been named “Immortal.” Unable to discipline Aatami, his fellow Fins sent him out to the countryside to hunt Russian forces on his own. He’s tough as nails and in some multiverse out there he very well might be a grandfather to John Wick.

It’s 1944. Aatami strikes gold — literally — in the Lapland tundra. A whole lotta gold.

While heading back to his village, he encounters a company of Nazis. They’re discouraged; they know the war isn’t swinging their way. They’re looking for a way to escape a certain gloomy fate back home in Germany when they happen upon Aatami and his bag of gold. With that chance encounter, a whole new war breaks out.

It’s Aatami versus an army of Nazis.

Aatami likes his chances.

That’s the depth and breadth of the story. Even so, it’s a heckuva wild ride.

Boats, Planes, Anything

A movie like Sisu lives and dies by its style more than anything else. The story is simple. The acting is top-notch. The action is great. The execution is superb.

Sisu is simply a fun movie to watch purely in the visual sense. In the cookie-cutter world of Marvel and other franchises in which the director is charged with following a blueprint conceived by others, it almost seems unusual these days to admire and be swept away by a movie’s stagecraft — the movie’s framing and composition, the elegance of the camera’s movements. Those are technical things, items some would argue are at their best when they go unnoticed.


But artful work should also be appreciated.

Sisu plays like a celebration of filmmaking and — more importantly — the theatrical experience of seeing a movie with a crowd reacting to all the on-screen combat. Watching Sisu at home simply wouldn’t be able to generate the same sensations of the collective participation of a crowd sharing in the anticipation of the next scenario and mutually — awkwardly, uncomfortably — responding to some really disgusting ways to annihilate a Nazi.

Aside from delighting (which sounds strange but holds true) in the grisly battles of one Fin against a company of Nazis, it’s also great to take in Jorma Tommila on the big screen as Aatami. The wild hairs in his graying beard. The wrinkles on his character’s aging face. A face that’s faced so many harrowing, life-or-death situations in the past. Each wrinkle marking one of those life-altering acts of survival.

Fortune and Glory

Aksel Hennie as Bruno Helldorf
Aksel Hennie as Bruno Helldorf

Sisu is the latest in a string of bloody, over-the-top movies dabbling in action, comedy and shades of horror. There’s Violent Night, Cocaine Bear, John Wick: Chapter 4 and Renfield all released within the past several months alone. There’s also a shift to the boogeyman being the good guy; it’s the bad guys who are filled with fear and dread.

Nods to Tarantino and the grindhouse era, music that echoes Ennio Morricone.

In Sisu, it all comes together nicely, as long as you can stomach brutal — brutal — violence. A hunting knife shoved through a Nazi head. A horse obliterated on a land mine. Sundry body parts whistling through the air. In Violent Night, Santa found novel ways to use wrapping paper and ornament hangers to tend to a wound. In Sisu, Aatami self-medicates with wire and gasoline. Wow. These guys make John Rambo look a wee-bit wimpy.

The bloodshed here stands out as steering away from purely cheesy gore and pushing toward a more grounded — but also heightened — sense of reality.

Sisu is not for the squeamish, but it most certainly provides a cathartic experience for those who can stomach the blood and the guts.