True Grit & Exploding Nazis-SISU

By Jason Godbey

It’s 1944, the end of World War II, the Nazis have slashed and burned the Finnish plains, and a lone prospector finds gold. He must travel 500 miles to the nearest bank, but to get there, he’ll have to battle some Nazis. This is the story of SISU, a film that’s part spaghetti western, part Rambo, part John Wick, part Mad Max: Fury Road, and part ultra-violent anime, all rolled into one. 

Our hero Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is the strong/silent type (he literally doesn’t speak). He is a man of action. His backstory is legendary. Korpi was a Finnish special forces officer who apparently killed more Russians than the rest of the Finnish army put together. He’s grizzled and scarred and played to perfection by Tommila who looks like Bryan Cranston and Clint Eastwood had a badass middle-aged child. This guy looks like he eats bullets for breakfast. There are some strong supporting performances, but make no mistake, this is his picture. 

When a group of Nazis stop him on the road and try to take his gold, with a gun to his head, he pulls a knife and stabs a Nazi through the skull and proceeds to kill his compatriots in record time, an act of cinematic badassery matched only by John Wick. This scene sets the tone for the entire piece. We’re going to see a man killing Nazis in quick and brutal fashion. 

The violence in this film is exquisite and explosive, some truly beautiful carnage. Blood flows. Body parts fly. It has all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, but director Jalmari Helander orchestrates it all to build to a crescendo. Each action sequence tells a story and builds to a climax. The brutality ranges from cartoonish anime violence to the painful quiet moments of our hero digging bullets and shrapnel out of himself as he grunts and grimaces in anguish. The kills are often innovative, our hero hardly ever fires a gun relying on his hands, or his knife to do the damage until the last act when he pulls out his pickaxe. 

The race across the plains is reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road. The Nazis have kidnapped a group of Finnish women for their amusement, just in case we didn’t hate them enough. The women don’t get much in the way of dialogue save for Alino (Mimosa Willamo) who gets to tell Korpi’s backstory to the soldiers guarding the women. She relishes in telling her captors they’ll surely be dead by Korpi’s hand.  

There isn’t much dialogue in the film, but what it lacks in dialogue it makes up for in visual story telling. Like Fury Road, this is a story told visually with dialogue added only when needed. Because the visuals are so strong and well constructed, we don’t need to hear the actors talk.

 In fact the characters who get the most development are our antagonists. When ordered to return home, the Nazis take upon themselves to avenge their fallen comrades and get Korpi’s gold. They know the war is lost, so why not have a plan for when all is said and done? They’re still evil, but they’re not dumb, and they’re motivated making them worthy adversaires.  

Showcasing the violence and mayhem is the beautiful cinematography by Kjell Lagerroos who makes the most of the natural light and majestic scenery by shooting scenes at golden and magic hour. Whether it’s a sunset on the plains or the anguish on Tommila’s face, each shot tells a story. 

The magnificient visuals are complimented by the brilliant sound design and a haunting score that’s used sparingly but is extremely effective. We hear the sounds of guns firing, the impact of blows, and the crunching of bones without a score imposing its will on the scene. The music is often used as a respit between the scenes to help us reset and breathe before the action takes over. 

Despite the moments of brutal realism, there are a few times when the violence gets to be a bit ridiculous. You may find yourself asking “why don’t they just shoot him?” or “how could he have possibly survived that?” It’s over-the-top and bombastic, but it all fits the tone of the movie. This isn’t your grand dad’s war picture. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan. This is a man who refuses to die despite all that’s done to hime, and you just have to go with it.   

There is something refreshing about seeing a real rated R movie in a theater. If you’re an action fan who’s tired of watching watered-down PG-13 violence, you’ll love this. If you’ve always wanted to see a one man death squad tear his way through a platoon of Nazis in a mountain of mayhem and carnage, this is your movie. This is a big screen adventure film, and a reason to go to the cinema. I highly recommend it. 

SISU opens in theaters April 28th. Look for our upcoming interview with SISU’s director, Jalmari Helander on the podcast and follow us here for more movie reviews.

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