Thursday, April 27, 2023

Sisu - Review


World War II is a well traversed setting for many a story of triumph and tragedy, but it’s the rare entry choosing its genre trappings on a far more specific level that surfaces from time to time just to mix it up. Sisu promises very little, a fair bit of killing and violence directed towards one of history’s worst groups in the Nazis and a main character who simply refuses to die, and it more than delivers on both. 

During the last days of World War II, a solitary prospector, Aatami (Jorma Tommila), crosses paths with Nazis on a scorched-Earth retreat in northern Finland. When the soldiers decide to steal his gold, they quickly discover they just tangled with no ordinary miner.

Director and writer Jalmari Helander breaks Aatami’s gnarly journey into chapters, each seeking to top the violence and tension of the last. Sisu never actually feels like much of a war film, but borrows the steady and well-paced escalation of westerns to get to the finish line. The carefully orchestrated action set pieces and grisly kills line up one after the other to make this satisfying display of madness and explosions.

The narrative itself is not super complicated, simply an avenue to display the action prowess of the individuals behind and in front of the camera. There’s not much in the way of character development, though one could argue its goals of portraying a legend make that a deliberate choice. Hell, the main character doesn’t speak a line of dialogue until nearly the end of the film, making Tommila’s performance entirely physical, nailing the intense glares and imposing presence that would make a man like him so worthy of the stories told of him.

Sisu captures an odd balance for action filmmaking. It’s simple premise feels very old-fashioned, while its set pieces feature a modern sense of style akin to the studio’s other action star by the name of John Wick. It’s that same sense of style and visual flare that make Sisu special. Sure, watching a seemingly un-killable man dispatch truly vile human beings in fitting and gory ways seems like enough on the surface, but Helander’s insistence on making it all look amazing as well is just icing on the cake. Even if the very clear divide between hero and enemies is so vast that it’s easy to predict where it’s all headed, the journey to get there is an absolutely wild ride.

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