May 21, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Finnish, German and English with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1944 in Finland, the action film “Sisu” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class during World War II.
Culture Clash: A Finnish former military commander, who has become a gold miner and a rogue vigilante, fights Nazi soldiers during World War II.
Culture Audience: “Sisu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in war movies with “hero vigilantes” and exaggerated action that’s meant to be partially amusing.
“Sisu” knows what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else: an adrenaline-packed, violent action film served up with plenty of self-aware campiness. Jorma Tommila’s portrayal of Aatami Korpi, the hero who fights Nazis, is a crowd-pleasing blitz. “Sisu” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Sisu” (which takes place in 1944 in Finland) has a very simple plot: a loner vigilante/gold miner named Aatami Korpi (played by Jorma Tommila) gets deadly revenge on Nazis who want to steal his gold. The Nazis underestimate Aatami because he’s much older than their usual opponents. Atami is a lot tougher and more ruthless than he looks.
It’s explained in the very beginning of the movie that the word “sisu” doesn’t have a specific meaning in Finnish, but it roughly translates to a white-knuckled form of courage in desperate moments. There are many of those moments in “Sisu,” which has a lot of over-the-top violence showing one man pitted against an army of several people. Because he’s outnumbered, Aatami has to figure out ways to outsmart his enemies.
At one point in the movie, it’s revealed that Aatami used to be a commander in the Finnish Army, but he went rogue after Nazis killed his entire family during the war. After the massacre of his family, Aatmi became a vengeful person whom no one could control. Even with Aatami having military training, there are are still deliberately cartoonish depictions of how Aatami is able to defeat many of the soldiers he comes up against.
Aatami’s violent exploits have given him a somewhat mystical legendary reputation, because he has been able to avoid death in situations that could easily kill most people. Some people who know about Aatami say that Aatami might be immortal. Whether or not his immortality is true, Aatami still needs to sustain himself with money and food.
The beginning of “Sisu” shows Aatami searching for gold in a remote area. Aatami’s only companions are his Bedlington Terrier and his horse. Aatami finds a huge slab of gold and can’t believe his luck. He takes his ice pick and chops the gold into large chunks. And he plans to bring the gold to the nearest financial bank, which is 563 miles away.
While he’s making the long trek to the bank, Aatami is stopped and harassed by Nazi soldiers, who soon find out how much gold Aatami has and plan to steal it from him. Aatami makes it clear that he’s not going to let the Nazis do what they want without a gifht from him. The rest of the movie is a fierce battle of wits and brutality between Aatami and the Nazis.
There isn’t much dialogue in “Sisu,” but when there is, it is delivered with a winking tone of loud and violent action movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. Most of the Nazi villains are generic, but the standouts are the troop leader Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (played by Aksel Hennie); his main sidekick Wolf (played by Jack Doolan), who loyally follows commands; and a soldier named Schütze (played by Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommilla’s real-life son), who easily gets into precarious situations.
The Nazis have captured five women as prisoners of war. As already shown in the trailer for “Sisu,” these women end up escaping and become allies to Aatami. The most defiant woman in the group is Aino (played by Mimosa Willamo), who does most of the talking.
The trailer for “Sisu” reveals a lot of the movie’s most memorable action scenes, lines of dialogue and plot developments. What you see in the trailer is really what you get in the movie. If you’re intrigued by what’s in the “Sisu” trailer, and you’re in the mood for a semi-comedic World War II action movie that’s pure escapism and not meant to be realistic, then “Sisu” delivers exactly what you might expect.
Lionsgate and Stage 6 Films released “Sisu” in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 16, 2023. “Sisu” was released in Finland on January 27, 2023.