SISU is a simple, gory, cannonball blast of an action movie about what happens when a platoon of Nazis fuck with the wrong god damn Laplander in the waining days of WWII. It’s the new one from RARE EXPORTS writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it’s only his third movie. The second was BIG GAME (2014), which apparently I didn’t review for some reason, but it was a pretty enjoyable English language debut, kind of a DIE HARD type scenario where Air Force One is shot down over the wilderness of Finland and a 13-year old kid on a deer hunt as a rite of passage ends up protecting the president (Samuel L. Jackson) with his bow and arrows.

In SISU it’s an old man, and he’s protecting his gold. Jorma Tommila (also in RARE EXPORTS and BIG GAME) stars as Aatami Korpi, a grizzled and stoic loner living alone with his dog and horse in the Laplands, panning for gold. One day he finds a large deposit of it, spends the day digging it out, and heads off with a bag full of nuggets. But then he runs into these Nazis.

They’re not the usual sniveling weasely kind we see in movies – these are burly, arrogant cavemen types, with a tank and truck full of abducted young women they call “the bitches,” and they’re hanging and shooting people and burning down villages for fun as they retreat. Their leader is apparently called Bruno Helldorf, and when he took his helmet off I recognized him as Aksel Hennie, the Norwegian actor I first paid attention to as the Bill-Burr-looking villain in THE DOORMAN (even though I’d already seen him in HERCULES and THE MARTIAN). Onni Tommila, who was the little boy protagonist of both RARE EXPORTS and BIG GAME, is now grown up and unfortunately has the perfect face to play a supporting Nazi doofus. I guess he’s the son of star Jorma Tommila and nephew of director Helander.

Aatami trots right past them on his horse, staring them down. Bruno’s top henchman Wolf (Jack Doolan, GREEN STREET 3: NEVER BACK DOWN) sets his sights on him until Bruno tells him not to bother. But nearby Aatami runs into some other soldiers who do hassle him, and discover the gold in his saddlebags. They’re about to shoot him and his dog, and don’t see it coming when he suddenly stabs an enormous Rambo-esque hunting knife all the way through one guy’s head. Then he leaps on the one with the machine gun, getting control of it before the guy can react.

Bruno hears the gunfire in the distance, comes to check it out, and finds the Nazi corpses, one with a stolen gold nugget. So the rest of the movie is a chase and a fierce one-on-many battle.

It seems hopeless for Aatami. They’ve got the tank and some very powerful guns, and they don’t seem anxious to preserve ammo. Also he runs right into their minefield, blowing his horse to bits and sending him flipping through the air.

When he’s able to get up he gathers his spilled gold as the Nazis pull up, and just stand there, watching him. A decent percentage of the fun here comes from the various looks of disbelief and “what the fuck is this guy doing?” on the faces of these goons as the events unfold. He fills his bag and stands up, and just as they’re about to gun him down he tosses a rock onto a mine, using the explosion and smoke as cover to back through the field. They follow, but don’t remember where they put the mines. Like all of the violence in this movie the mine detonations go above and beyond the call of duty in gruesomeness. I like when the one guy blows up and his leg flies off and sets off a second mine.

Clearly this guy Aatami has been through some shit, but he doesn’t speak, and these guys don’t know who he is, so he’s a total mystery at first. When he bathes we see scars all over his back and then he turns around and the one twisting down his torso is so deep and gnarly it’s like he’s been autopsied.

But the Nazis find his dogtags near his exploded horse, and they figure out who he is. The movie is divided into chapters, and chapter 4, “The Legend,” could’ve been designed just for me: it’s the Just How Badass Is He? speech. Turns out he’s a legendary, almost mythical Finnish commando, a “one man death squad” in the Winter War. The Russians called him Koschei, “The Immortal,” on account of he was so hard to kill.

As an admirer of John Matrix obviously I appreciate the power of exaggeration and absurdity in action films. I won’t give away Aatami’s greatest achievements, but Helander is very imaginative in giving him the most extreme and clever ways to overcome everything from a vicious attack dog to a hanging. There’s a technique he uses to hide underwater that made me laugh and gasp at the same time – the most hardcore thing I’ve seen in a while. Seems like an Ogami Itto move.

You could say he’s a Finnish Rambo – I was thinking of part 4 specifically before I read that Helander cites FIRST BLOOD as an influence on both this movie and his wanting to be a director in the first place – but I think he’s more of a tall tale, or a Bill Brasky story. I think similar to RARE EXPORTS this movie is basically a longform joke that’s told so well and so bone dry (and it’s such a primally appealing premise – a badass dude fucking up evil Nazi war criminals) that I’m happy to take the story seriously.

Finland is not a country or culture I have much awareness of, so I’m happy to see them have their own regional variation on universal tough guy mythology. There’s definitely a spaghetti western feel to some of it (including hints of Morricone-esque electric guitars on the pounding score by Juri Seppä and Tuomas Wäinölä), but the scenery, the climate and, I suspect, the specific type of rugged self-reliance on display are distinctly Finnish. As the opening text explains, the title is a Finnish concept without a direct English translation. Wikipedia explains sisu as “stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness.”

That quality is shared by all the locals on screen, arguably even the dog, who escapes gunfire. I guess this is a SPOILER but I think some will appreciate that almost all of the Nazi atrocities have happened off screen before the movie begins, so you get to jump quickly to the vengeance without having to wince through a bunch of torture or assault scenes as set up. The women (particularly Mimosa Willamo, LAKE BODOM) get to hold their heads high in defiance and pretty much strut away from this. I regret that I saw it in a showing with only one other person in attendance, because there are several big moments that seemed worthy of applause.

Though it’s not currently in the works, I read that Helander hasn’t ruled out a sequel. The possibility had occurred to me, but WWII is ending here, and it’s hard to beat Nazis for despicable bad guys, so I wondered if they’d have to be fugitive Nazis who found out about the gold somehow. Otherwise it might feel like a downgrade. But now that I think about it this guy is so stubborn about dying he could have survived for many decades to fight any other villains through history. Hell, he might still be alive. I bet he’s living humbly, even with all that gold. He just spends that on tools and dog treats and stuff. Anyway, more than a sequel I just hope Helander gets his next one off the ground in less than eight years.

I appreciate that SISU is such a pure movie. A direct, simple concept executed with somewhat limited dialogue, plenty of flair and confidence, in and out in 91 minutes. It’s traditional in its story, but novel in its details. It’s not deep or thoughtful, but it’s rooted in an understanding that fictional violence can be fun when avatars of the people who commit real violence are its target. It’s gotta be a shoo-in for best picture at the Antifa Movie Awards this year. I hope there’s not a backlash.


P.S. This would be kind of a cool double feature with Jesse V. Johnson’s HELL HATH NO FURY, a very different take on a local fighting over gold with soldiers at the end of WWII

This entry was posted on Monday, May 8th, 2023 at 6:52 am and is filed under Reviews, Action. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Sisu”

  1. This is out? I only learned of its existence when the trailer played before JOHN WICK 4 and it immediately became the only movie coming out this year that I’m actively excited about. You can keep your beast wars and your evil deads. I just want to see Nazis explode.

  2. dreadguacamole

    May 8th, 2023 at 7:36 am

    Also desperate to see this – but it’s not coming out here in the UK for another three weeks, dammit. Knowing the fuckwits that run cinemas here, they’ll probably push it back to the smaller screens, too.

    Trying to find out what rating it’s going to be around these parts (because my son also wants to see it), I ran into these Common Sense Media ratings, which made me laugh:

    “Is it any good?
    Our review (4 stars)
    Parent’s review (1) (4 stars)
    Kid’s review (1) (5 stars)”

    Yeah, sounds about right.

  3. Playing in Malaysian cinemas…but it’s dubbed in English! Ugh! I wanna see Nazi Scum getting their just comeuppance in Finnish with English subs!

  4. The film was filmed in English for the international market. I think there’s maybe two lines in Finnish in total if I remember correctly. So it is not dubbed.

  5. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    May 8th, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    This movie will please all reading this site. I especially liked the underwater scene Vern mentions, and the grim punchline of what happens to the third Nazi factotum in the boat.

  6. I imagine they could pull a Missing In Action and do Sisu 2: The Beginning where we actually see him lose his family and fight in the Winter War. Or he could use his newfound riches to take a vacation in the Pacific, where he runs into some Japanese soldiers who refuse to believe the war is over.

    I just really want them to top the starter course silliness of saying that the word Sisu has no English translation, then providing a definition for it in English. “There is no English translation for Sisu, but in Japanese, it is roughly comparable… TO BUSHIDO.”

  7. Man this isnt out till July in Australia, fuuuuuck. I really wanna see it.

  8. Jalmari Helander and Jorma Tommila first started working together back in 2001 with a short film called Ukkonen (Thunder in English). It’s a kind of a superhero action comedy. I remember when it came out on dvd back then and it was a big deal among my group of friends. It’s got John Woo slow motion shootouts, superpowered fist fights, pyrotechnics and special effects. Things you didn’t see in Finnish films. It’s all very cheap of course, but very charming.

    Ukkonen is on YouTube, but in terrible quality. When I saw Sisu the first thing I did was ask my childhood friend WhatsApp group if anyone knows how to get it in good quality and one of them still had the dvd rip from back then. That was cool.

  9. Finland has a long history of making terrific war movies. And a good tradition with strange comedies. Of course Helander would end up making something like this. And it’s filmed in Finland. Unlike RARE EXPORTS (Norway) and BIG GAME (Germany). Tatu Sinisalo, Vincent Willestrand and Arttu Kapulainen can also be seen in the masterpiece UKNOWN SOLDIER. It’s on HBO.

  10. Loved BIG GAME, which had a lot of heart, plus Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Stevenson. And I’ve read that interview with Helander where he says he wasn’t big on research, which is fine with me. But are we to understand that this is set during the Lapland War, that 6 month period at the end of World War II when the Finns were actually fighting against, rather than with, the Nazis? Or is it just that they piss Aatami off, as Nazis have a tendency to do?

  11. Without having seen it I gather from the storyline that the nazis are running towards Norway. So I guess that means that we are in the very last stage of WWII and that they have the Soviets and the Finnish army after them. There’s a cool Finnish war movie called RUKAJÄRVIEN TIE (AMBUSH in English) about a band of soldiers who goes to far into the Soviet Union at the start of the war and have to sneak/fight their way back into Finland. It’s greatly inspired by CROSS OF IRON and worth checking out. The Swedish movie THE BORDER, about a Swedish soldier who sneaks into Norway to find his brother, is also worth a look. But mostly because it almost turns into a slasher film along the way.

  12. Detective John Sisu didn’t impress me I’m afraid. After three films I just think I don’t vibe with Hellender. If his Samuel L Jackson president movie didn’t work for me nothing will.

    With this I feel like he mistakes extreme violence for style. We know I’m no prude. I adore The Night Comes for Us and John Wick. Sisu just seems like it’s going “Whoa this is so IN YOUR FACE can you believe it?”

    Or maybe it just turned me off to open with a title card that said the word can’t be translated, then explaining it means courage. So that wasn’t so hard. It’s so pretentious.

  13. I dunno, when the whole game is making the audience wait for the next gore money shot that’s hopefully bigger and better than the one before, isn’t that a slasher movie, not an action movie?

  14. Yes, I would consider this to be an action movie, like FIRST BLOOD, but seeing as how action movies and slashers are two of civilization’s greatest achievements I don’t know why we need to draw lines between them.

  15. @Jojo
    I feel like the difference between a slasher and an action movie is just what side the hero is on.

  16. This is good fun. With some world-class self-surgery on the battlefield scenes… including multiple bullet fragments getting plinked into a metal container.

    SPOILER One of my only gripes was that his loyal dog didn’t get in on the nazi-slaughtering action. I was kind of expecting/hoping the dog to turn into a canine SISU killing machine and take out those german shepherds. Can dogs be considered nazis? I didn’t get a sense of their politics but they were wearing black leather vests, so in movie terms they probably had it coming.

  17. I thought this was pretty fun. The gag where the nazi got blown up by a mine and his severed leg went flying, only for the leg to detonate *another* mine when it landed was a good one.

  18. Holy fuck did I love this Demon Love Child between INGLORIOUS BASTERDS & RAMBO. As this site’s number 1 fan of the latter, I’ll take incarnations of Mr. John J in any language, country or culture. And Laplander Rambo rocked!

    There’s a glorious simplicity to the writing, bolstered by gorgeous cinematography and Grade A bloody carnage. Doubly surprising coming from this director who’s only other feature I’d seen was BIG GAME, which I enjoyed but felt it played like DIE HARD for kids.

    Nothing kid’s stuff about this very, very, Adult Actioner.

    If there’s a SISU 2 in the works, take my money NOW!

  19. This has finally crossed the North Sea to these shores, and I loved it – completely worth travelling a few miles to watch it, since the dipshits in my local cinema didn’t just push it to the smallest screen, they aren’t showing it at all. Harrumph.

    Much of the action itself felt to me weirdly less… explicit? than on other modern Hong-Kong-influenced action films. What’s happening is always clear, but there’s more of a focus on storytelling and on individual stunts than on the procedural details of who does what to whom at every turn; The movie feels a little old-school in that respect, despite its very modern brutality/focus on gore.
    Loved how mythical everything felt, sending suspension of disbelief to take a dive off a tall hill. I don’t tend to enjoy that sort of thing (I think I’m one the few people here who hasn’t really enjoy any fast and furious movies after five) but this is, as Vern says, such a pure, concentrated example of that it just felt joyous. So much fun.

  20. Finally saw it last night and had a blast with it. Loved the way it was somehow both very over the top yet also grounded and gritty (at least aesthetically), and just dirty and mean throughout. Also thought it was refreshing how





    He gets to keep the gold at the end. There’s no a moment where he has a moral dilemma of having to choose to get the gold or save the women, he doesn’t give the gold to them after, he doesn’t eventually decide it’s not about the money anymore but purely getting vengeance. All that would have been fine, but yeah, you can’t say he didn’t earn that shit.

  21. Speaking of killing Natzees, I had a blast with Blood & Gold on Netflix, which is small in scale (not going beyond a German village and the surrounding countryside) but high in ambition. I love the tone-setting bit at the beginning where our hero, a deserting German soldier, has his credentials read by his superior as a prelude to executing him. It’s both a ‘How Badass Is This Guy?’ scene and a laundry list of all the sins he now regrets and wants to make up for.

    From there, it’s a crackerjack march of those Indiana Jones/Mad Max type action scenes where every move is a countermove. “Okay, a guy’s shooting at me with a machine gun, but I can block him with the body of this Nazi long enough to get to this wall, where I can grab the sword above the mantel and throw it at him, but him dodging puts him next to the grenade that he’s going to throw at me, so I have to take shelter behind that table, and if I grab the bottle of wine from on top of that table I can throw it into the fire…” so on and so on. Love that Rube Goldberg stuff.

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