Aug 9, 2023
Sisu is an enjoyable homage to Rambo but with much more badassery
Rating: 5 out of 5 dead Nazis
This past weekend while looking for a good movie to watch, I came across Sisu, a 2022 historical action thriller written and directed by Jalmari Helander (Wing Man). The film is an enjoyable homage to Rambo but with much more badassery and even sweeter fight scenes. And after engaging in an hour-and-a-half of action, blood, guts, and sheer badassery, I’m of the opinion that more movies would benefit from having more scenes where Nazis are mercilessly mowed down. Did I mention Sisu contains Nazis? No? My bad. Allow me.
In a mostly wordless movie full of fist beating, excessive gunfire, and a plethora of exploding landmines, Sisu is set in 1944 during the last days of World War II on a scorched-earth retreat through Lapland, a snowy, northern region of Scandinavia. It follows Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila, of Rare Exports), a grizzled gold prospector and former military commander whose family was slaughtered during the war. In their absence, he’s lived a solitary life roaming Finland’s countryside with his horse and loyal dog, embodying the movie’s title.
Nearly untranslatable, the word sisu best translates, according to Helander, as, “a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination that manifests when all hope is lost” … the unrelenting will to survive. Aatami isn’t immortal, though; “he just refuses to die.”
While out panning for gold one day, Aatami finds a tiny nugget that entices him to start digging holes, excavating the land as gunfire and exploding shells encroach upon his antiquated site. When he finally strikes the motherload, he falls back, crying tears of ecstasy. He gathers up as much gold as he can take with him, then packs up his horse to head home. On the way—his fortune of nuggets tucked away in his horse’s saddlebags—he comes across a band of sullen Nazis led by a brutal SS officer, who are also hauling their own find: a cadre of young Finnish women. Aatami never says a word as the Nazis find and take his gold, then threaten him, which turns out to be a big mistake.
The fight to retrieve his loot inspires our hero with a supernatural kind of determination that’s as caked on him as the blood and mud lodged in the lines of his face. He fights across roads populated by landmines; he survives when the horse he’s riding triggers a landmine and explodes; he survives a hanging; he even slices men’s throats underwater and uses their air bubbles to stay underwater and breathe, thereby avoiding capture. Carnage drips from every corner of the frame in Sisu, which Director Jalmari Helander says is inspired by his favorite action movie of all time, Rambo.
“I was so blown away by the scene,” he tells GQ Magazine, where Rambo takes a sewing kit out from the bottom of his knife and begins stitching up his lacerated arm on the edge of a cliff. “I wanted to make an homage to that but in a more badass way.”
Sisu is a visceral gut-punch that’s every bit as entertaining as John Wick, Rambo, Nobody, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Raid but very much features its own level of badassery in Aatami’s ferocity, mental and physical toughness, creative fight sequences, and undying will to survive. He is one tough SOB, enacting some pretty sweet kill maneuvers and digging out his own bullets with a dirty knife, then setting fire to his own wounds to close them … without passing out. He survives extreme hunger, thirst, a beating with a metal hook, knife gashes, and a plane crash. He also survives and kills more than 30 Nazis, and how he does so will have you on the edge of your seat watching with excitement.
Throughout their cat-and-mouse game across the barren land, Aatami unleashes the worst of hell with a super creative imagination for gory retribution, as well as for slicing, dicing, decapitating, and blowing Nazis to smithereens—his underlying set of beliefs breathing fire out of life.
With copious amounts of blood throughout its scenes, Sisu’s effects department deserves some mad props for their outstanding efforts, as does the editing department. For example, in the scene where Aatami and his horse unknowingly trigger a landmine, the horse explodes, taking most of the brunt of the explosion. This scene is done extremely well. It’s the first big “Whoah!” moment of the movie. The horse explodes into chunks and bits, and every bit of it looks so very real. Don’t worry, though; no actual horses were harmed in the shooting of this movie. There’s also a great scene where a tank rolls over a dead Nazi; those effects are stellar.
Sisu also has some great messages buried within its plot. The sisu legend is about refusing to give up, no matter what, even when the odds are against you and when Death is reaching out to grab you with its decrepit, old fingerbones. There’s also a message of female empowerment in the gang of captured Finnish women. Once Aatami takes out the Nazis driving the truck with the women in it, he greets the women wearing a shoulder full of automatic and bolt-action weapons. What was once a group of Nazi captures becomes a gang of ruthless, Nazi-killing, gunfighting badasses—a refreshing addition to the male-centric movie.
Sisu is a mega-hit all the way around: great story with an encapsulating legend full of no-frills, high-octane action; smooth and well performed execution; well-choreographed kills and fight scenes; gorgeous cinematography; outstanding special effects; quality acting full of raw, brutal emotion; gnarly sound effects accompanying actions like crunching bones and poking a sharp needle through skin; and a perfectly accompanying soundtrack to heighten what’s happening on screen. Aatami is, essentially, a symbol for Finland’s masculinity: quiet, humble, and strong.
“If I put it shortly,” Helander says, “the [main] message of the film is: ‘Don’t f**k with the Fins.’”
Don’t mess with people in Finland ... noted!
Sisu is currently available to rent on Video On Demand, Apple TV, Prime Video, and Roku.
Keeley Brooks is a big ole movies, television, and streaming nerd with an uncontrollable urge to write about everything she watches, even if it sucks.