By: Adam Freed
In a world divided on multiple fronts, it is reassuring to know that there are still a few unimpeachable truths that govern life. The sun will always rise in the east, set in the west, and it’s never a bad time to witness the complete decimation of an entire platoon of Nazis. Sisu, a memorable and at times breathtaking visual story told by Finnish director Jalmari Helander, reminds just how much fun bite sized non-intellectual property based action movies can be when concept is kept small and quality high. The film’s title comes not from a Finnish word, but rather a concept that has no direct English translation. “Sisu” represents the unrivaled strength of will and determination when faced with overwhelming odds. In short, do not back a former Finnish warrior into a corner.
Helander’s English language, bloody western-esque joyride opens in Lapland, a broad and beautiful, yet mostly uninhabited swath of Finland best known for the Aurora Borealis and its sub arctic wilderness. It is here that audiences first meet Aatami, who as the gravelly voiceover instructs, is a warrior who has left WWII in his past. In what is sure to be a direct homage to the Coen Brothers western short film All Gold Canyon, Aatami is first seen discovering a generationally significant pocket of gold with which he hopes to begin his peaceful post war life. The breathtaking cinematic landscape here captured in glorious wide angle begs to be seen in 4K. Helander employs visuals that could have doubled on episodes of Planet Earth, but shocks audiences back into focus with his deployment of molar rattling sound design, an important reminder that WWII is not yet over in Lapland or for the peace seeking Aatami.
Although the film paces almost to its midpoint before providing any information about its silent protagonist, it is clear that Aatami, a former Finnish commando, is not a Nazi, and is therefore worthy of our admiration. Sisu is incredibly violent, in the most entertaining and redemptive ways possible. The increasingly implausible and creative methods with which the Finnish flesh and blood terminator adds to his Nazi body count is both enjoyable and inventive. This film is not for the faint of heart, or for those easily startled by bloodshed. Sisu pushes boundaries with arresting visual set pieces and immersive war time sound design. However, the signature skill that Jalmari Helander seems to have mastered is his use of natural lighting. Tangerine sunsets and the infernos of collateral damage backlight what is sure to be one of the most visually inviting action films of the year. Sisu’s strength is that it knows exactly what it wants to be, and is only that for 90 minutes. If audiences learn nothing from watching this film, but to avoid a Finn with nothing to lose, then that is lesson enough.