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"Sisu" Review

Sisu is a Finnish concept that doesn't directly translate as a word, but means an extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It is also the title of an awesome Finnish movie whose plot can be translated to "John Wick + Rambo versus Nazis during WWII."

Set in 1944 as the war is winding down; Finland has signed a treaty with Russia to cease aggression if they'll get their former German allies out of there. As the Nazis leave they destroy everything - roads, bridges, towns - on their way. The are the Bad Guys.

Far away from the fighting we meet Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), an old man prospecting for gold in the wilds of Lapland with only the company of his horse and dog. Bombers fly overhead and he can see the flashes and sounds of war in the distance, but he ignores them. One day his efforts are rewarded as he hits a rich vein of gold. He loads his bags with the haul and heads for civilization to cash in his score.

On the way he passes a platoon of Germans led by SS officer Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) and while some side eye glances are exchanged, they don't bother the old man. He's not as fortunate when he encounters a small group of soldiers down the road. They stop and search him and when they discover the gold, prepare to execute him. Big mistake. Aatami swiftly and brutally kills them all and takes off, but the sound of gunfire carried to the platoon and Helldorf turns them around to investigate. 

Upon finding the carnage and a gold nugget, he sets off after the man who killed his men, both to punish and to get the gold because he knows the war is lost for the Fatherland and he is likely headed for a noose, but that gold could buy him out of that fate. He chases Aatami into a mine field and with a bunch of soldiers and a tank versus one old man, he figures the odds should be in their favor. They are not in their favor. They are basically outnumbered. Whoops!

 I'm not going to deny you the joys of this over-the-top grindhouse murderfest by detailing the plot further. (The trailer gives away too much in my opinion.) But suffice to say it's Many Nazis vs One Old Man, trying to get his gold and him killing the everloving bejeebers out of them. The hilariously brutal kills ride the line between gory realism and Evil Dead-level preposterous, but never get revolting. Besides, they're Nazis. They're the baddies and deserve unpleasant fates.

The only German who gets a shred of character development is Helldorf due to his motivation not of just rapacious greed, but mercenary self-interest; he needs that gold to buy his life, so even when ordered by his commanders to stop chasing Aatami because he is a nearly-mythical warrior, as revealed by his dog tag which they retrieve, he sees no way out.

 As for Aatami, he's like the answer to what if Liam Neeson was even older and more grizzled and seemingly unkillable? He experiences injuries which should hobble or kill mere mortals, but just soldiers on. He's not a freak of nature like a Schwarzenegger, but the embodiment of the titualar sisu, he is fueled by determination and a simple refusal to die. This works due to Tommila's glowering performance which is virtually dialogue-free. Much as been made about how few words Keanu Reeves spoke in John Wick: Chapter Four (reportedly fewer than 700 in a nearly three-hour movie), but Aatami literally says NOTHING until the last 10 seconds of the film and in the English translation amounts to only TEN words. (Despite being a Finnish production, everyone speaks English until the final scenes for some reason and due to a glitch in the subtitles, the very last line didn't display for me. Not cool. Had to look it up.)

 Writer-director Jalmari Helander and cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos team up to make the barren Lapland tundra a character itself, a landscape of foreboding dark beauty pocked by scorched ruins left in the Nazis wake.

The lean and extremely mean 91-minute runtime also doesn't allow the story to bog down unnecessarily. It's kill or be killed (horribly) and if you're not adverse to gonzo kills in a stripped down tale not burdened with the complicated mythology of the John Wick universe, then Sisu is for you.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable.


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