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Sisu Is One Badass Action Film

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

In Sisu, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is doing one thing and one thing only: killing Nazis. Who doesn’t love seeing Nazis play frisbee with land mines? The film’s trailer promised a carnage-filled ride of chaos, and Sisu does not disappoint in that regard. When something is described as John Wick meets Mad Max, two absolutely astounding films, how can you not get excited about it? Sisu mixes genres, combining the beautiful moments of an action epic perfectly with parodical comedy, making for a film that feels unique, yet comfortingly familiar.

The narrative follows Aatami Korpi, who is a Finnish ex-soldier. After trading his guns for sifting pans, Aatami moves to the countryside with his dog for a quiet post-war life of looking for some sweet glimmering gold. After striking a metric ton of gold Aatami decides it’s time to take it to the bank. The only issue is the closest bank is 563 miles away, and the path is filled with Nazis. Determined to cash in on his riches, Aatami, and his dog, embark on the long journey ready to face the trials before him.

6 women prisoners walk forward in a line, each with a long barreled gun in their hand.
Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Jalmari Helander’s script is fairly straightforward. There are no twists. No crazy character revelations. Just a good old-fashioned story. That may sound a little boring, but sometimes the simplest of stories are the best stories to tell. Helander tells the story of Aatami through the actions of our silent protagonist and provides us with the necessary lore through conversations with the Nazis. It’s simple storytelling done right. Some people may feel the story is lacking in substance, but Sisu doesn’t really need a ton of substance. It’s impressive to see a film in a genre that is trying to become more and more high-concept take the route Sisu does.

As well as coveting penning this story Jalmari Helander helms the film as director, too. Between Helander’s character direction, screen direction, and Kjell Lagerroos’s cinematography, Sisu succeeds in all aspects of film. Having a setting of desolate land can either help or hinder your film. The location mirrors Aatami’s character, and Lagerroos’s camera work really explores the depths of the land. Sisu‘s look is visually appealing in a way not many films with this setting are. It almost feels as if this desolate land is a character in itself. On top of capturing the nihilistic beauty of the land, each shot of action is handled with care making the violence seem much more visceral. Lagerroos doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he makes some great modifications to it.

Sisu sets the tone right off the bat with a title card defining the word sisu. It’s a Finnish word with no direct translation, but from what I’ve read from Finnish people basically means one has “guts.” The BBC states the word sisu is derived from the Finnish word sisus, which roughly stands for “guts” or “intestines.” While I can’t remember the title card verbatim, the gist of it is saying the word Sisu stands for resilience, someone who refuses to give up in the face of dire consequences. This is the perfect word to describe Aatami.

Aatami is put in so many deadly situations, the film approaches parody at some points. This film is itself not a parody by any means, but Jalmari Helander works the concept of sisu title literally into so many scenes where the protagonist seems to have no chance of survival. The entirety of Hardcore Henry feels like that. Helander naming this film Sisu and setting a precedent at the beginning of the film gives him some sort of leeway to play with the audience’s expectations. When Aatami continually defies death, it feels like Helander is taking the piss out of action films. At no point does it feel as if Helander is looking down on the genre, but he’s playing with the idea of death in a way not many action films have the opportunity to.

The action in a film like John Wick is fast but drawn out through long sequences of action. Sisu carries a similar pacing, in regard to its action, while still finding new and exciting ways to execute its choreography. Oula Kitti’s choreography is flawless. Between knife fights and action on a moving tank, Kitti finds ways to incorporate fighting as a genuine catalyst for the story, rather than utilizing it for the sake of action. Too many films use these scenes to pad out their screen time with no real emotional stakes. A film like Sisu that doesn’t take its action for granted and uses it to tell a story is rare.

The lead Nazi stands in front of his troop as they command Aatami to get off his horse
Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Sisu is a film that needs to be seen in a theater. The booming bass of the surround sound and a cheering audience amps the energy of this film up tenfold. With tones of a Spaghetti Western, Sisu is one of the most enjoyable theater experiences I’ve had in a long time. The Gregorian chant-filled score meshes with the beautifully brutal carnage. If you are looking for a film with new ideas, you won’t find that here. If you are looking for a film that takes the ideas and tropes of action films that we love and want to see them utilized in new ways, then Sisu is the film for you.

Sisu premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 and will have a limited theatrical release in the United States on April 28, 2023.

Written by Brendan Jesus

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