Sisu review: Nazis mess with the wrong man in thrilling war movie

Chris Tilly
sisu review

Sisu is a brutal shot of adrenaline-fuelled fun that combines elements of Rambo, Mad Max, and Die Hard in a tale of one man killing many Nazis in ever-more imaginative ways. The result is as thrilling as it sounds, and as good as action cinema gets.

Director Jelmari Helander made twisted Christmas movie Rare Exports. Progressed to superb survival flick Big Game. Now he’s done Die Hard in a field, in the process reinventing that very specific – and usually very predictable – sub-genre.

There’s no word for ‘Sisu’ in English. It can’t be translated. But the gist is a white-knuckled form of courage. And the film is a white-knuckle ride, playing out at the tail-end of WWII, after Finland and the Soviet Union signed the Moscow Armistice, and the Fins were busy driving Nazis out of Lapland.

One man is done with the war, preferring to pan for gold in a remote region, with just his horse and dog for company. But events conspire to put him on a collision course with some departing Nazis. And it goes badly for both parties.

Meet the Immortal

That man is Aatami Korpi, and as he washes himself in a stream early in proceedings, the scars on his body suggest this is no mere mortal. With every cut and wound telling a terrible story from his past. As one character succinctly puts it, “he’s one motherf**ker you don’t want to mess with.”

Turns out Aatami’s nickname is ‘The Immortal,’ with Korpi a former Finnish commando who lost his family to the Russians, and turned himself into a one-man death squad in response. One who is said to have killed more than 300 of his enemies.

So not the kind of guy you want to mess with. But the SS don’t know that, initially harassing him when Korpi rides past them atop his horse. Then taking a shine to the gold he practically broke his back mining.

Die Hard-meets-Rambo-meets-Mad Max

What follows is an intense action movie that follows the Die Hard formula in that a determined individual slowly, surely, and systematically takes out the movie’s villains.

But it’s also a bit Rambo in that said individual is a trained killer, skilled in hunting, evading, and in this case, doing lots of stabbing. While Korpi is also slightly Mad Max in that he’s… well, mad. Pushed to the edge by losing everything. Then vaulting over it when the Nazis go for his gold.

He’s played to perfection by Jorma Tommila, who appeared in Helander’s previous films, and delivers a star-making turn here; one that’s wordless until the film’s final scene. But Tomilla says so much with his eyes that dialogue isn’t necessary. Making you believe moments and beats that are frequently unbelievable.

Villain worthy of the hero

That’s because the action starts out far-fetched, with Korpi using landmines as frisbees. Then becomes less convincing when he turns into Jaws. Before pushing the bounds of believability when our hero hangs off a plane, Mission: Impossible-style.

But if you’re willing to suspend that disbelief, and travel with Aatami to the bitter end, it’s a wild journey. One improved immeasurably by the quality of its villain.

As played by Headhunters star Askel Hennie, SS Officer Bruno Helldorf is a monster. But one who is as clever and cunning as the film’s hero. And due to Aatami’s silence, he’s as much protagonist as antagonist, pushing the plot forward as he endeavors to bring our hero down.

It starts out a battle of smarts. Before turning into a battle of wills between the two men, with both men refusing to quit, and refusing to die. That war within a war is consistently compelling from beginning-to-end, and the key to Sisu’s success.

Sisu review score: 5/5

Sisu is testosterone in celluloid form. A movie that has little interest in plot, or dialogue, or character development, in favor of economically depicting action in its purest form. And it works.

There will be bigger action films released this year. Films that are more expensive and more spectacular. But it’s doubtful 2023 will produce a better action movie that Sisu.

Ultimately, this is your new favorite action flick, from a director who is now three-for-three.

Sisu screened at Glasgow FrightFest and will be released later in the year.