SISU Review: One Man, Killing Nazis
Directed by Jalmari Helander ('Rare Exports'), Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, and Onni Tommilastar star in the action war drama from Finland.
With its wide-screen sky and endlessly empty tundra, Lapland makes a surprisingly able analogue for the American West.
Finnish director Jalmari Helander is not exactly interested in making Once Upon in Time in Lapland here, but he certainly enjoys the genre’s visual language, huge-canvas landscapes, and weather-beaten faces.
After his deadpan Christmas creature feature, Rare Exports, and his pop-rocks riff on The Most Dangerous Game, Big Game, where Samuel L. Jackson as a shoeless president of the United States was hunted in the Finnish wilderness, he returns with a bigger budget but a narrower ambition. Sisu is a straight-as-an-arrow romp, which is really an excuse to shoot, slice, and dice Nazis in a colourfully outrageous fashion.
His regular leading man, Jorma Tommila, also returns (along with his son -- more on that later) for a third outing, as battle scarred ex-soldier at the tail end of World War II, working as a solitary prospector. In the early There Will Be Blood inspired moments, he makes a serious gold strike in the mossy permafrost.
The film is essentially his trip back to civilization, laden with saddlebags full of treasure. This is hampered — OK, far, far more than hampered — by a well-armed Nazi death squad. They have a tank.
Things are separated into essentially six big set-pieces, which are chapter titled; the titles getting gradually as distressed and beat up as the stoic hero. Helander knows his Indiana Jones films inside out. He seems determined to amplify, by a thousand, many of Spielberg’s greatest Nazi-bruising hits, where one man (and occasionally, here and there, a tough lady) brings the SS to heel. What he may lack here in plot and storytelling wonder, he more than makes up with creative violence. The violence is the storytelling.
He is also blessed with a cartoonishly delicious band of villains, headed by Norwegian star and badass-chameleon character actor Aksel Hennie. While Hennie’s blue-eyed SS officer is no Hans Landa (how could he be?) he oozes weary charm and casual villainy.
Hennie is a master of baffled, but resigned, stillness. In the film's only real narrative twist, he is painfully aware that Germany is about to lose the war, and sees the big bag of gold as an escape hatch for himself and his fellow officers.
Backed into a corner, he is not simply evil for evil's sake. He is desperate. Along with with his sharp shooting heavy (The Boys’ Jack Doolan), and a wordless ‘baby Van Cleef’ performance from Onni Tommila (not playing his father’s son or young hero for the first time), they order a lot of nameless Nazi goons to their death at the hands of an ludicrously immortal Finn warrior, in an effort to steal his gold.
Scored with a didgeridoo-Valhalla vibe, and splattered with blood and soil, Sisu is a far way from re-inventing the wheel here. It is a cavalcade of the familiar, and a bit of a simple, mostly harmless, nuke-the-fridge kind of fun. I mean, who is against killing Nazis?
Review published originally during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022. The film opens, only in theaters, Friday, April 28, 2023, via Lionsgate. Visit their official site for more information and to get tickets.