I always respect when a film is willing to commit to a bare bones narrative. Not only does that instantly set it apart from most complex blockbusters of the modern era, but it allows the filmmaking team to focus on making the final product as aesthetically appealing and narratively satisfying as possible. This isn’t to discount complex stories (that umbrella comprises most of my favorite movies), but there’s something special about keeping things simple.
That is exactly what Sisu does. At risk of calling it “the Finnish John Wick” (especially because the studio is very content to promote it that way), I will say that Sisu shares only the broad strokes with its counterpart, and that is the arc — the mostly silent protagonist has a personal mission, and that mission involves killing several bad guys along the way. These two movies are proof that you can have a brilliant, incredibly simple story to work with, but you must have the filmmaking prowess to back it up and ensure that it gets told in a visually interesting way.
Sisu, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, definitely has a capable team behind the camera with the skills to make the thrilling entertainment they seek to achieve. Our protagonist is the Finnish veteran Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), who strikes gold — literally — and begins the long trek to the nearest bank to deposit his stash. However, it’s 1944, the Lapland War is raging strong, and Nazis roam the Finland wilderness, killing anyone in their way. The Second World War is only a backdrop for the events that unfold, but the overarching threats are still felt, and we learn so much about the state of the world with the environment and everything we see around our main character as he embarks on his journey.
As you might be able to guess, the Nazis cause some trouble for Aatami Korpi, so what can he do but cause even more trouble for them? It’s a “man against the world” type story: he has a mission, and he’s going to stick to it and do whatever it takes to get there. Korpi is a former Finnish military commander who lost everything in the Winter War (which lasted from 1939-40), so he has the skills to take down these Nazis in a series of brutal clashes of bloody chaos.
A common criticism of modern action movies is that our heroes withstand far more than would be humanly possible, only to get back up and keep on fighting. Korpi’s military history and undoubtedly intense training and experience are a solid explanation for how he is able to survive so much, but Sisu goes out of its way to remind us that he's not infallible or indestructible — in fact, he gets hurt and wounded quite a lot, but his endurance and will to live is so off the chain that every time you knock him down, he keeps getting back up.
Sisu begins a limited theatrical run today.