Sisu is an example of minimalist storytelling used in service of maximum carnage. There’s no plot, just a scenario. WWII is in its final days, and a Finnish prospector named Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is looking for gold. He finds some - a lot, in fact. Life is about to change significantly. His luck is not all good, however. A band of Nazis steals his gold after he crosses paths with them. Aatami is hell-bent on getting it back, and if he has to kill a bunch of those Nazis, he will. (Spoiler alert: He does.) That’s the film right there. Fifteen minutes of set-up, 75 minutes of Nazi-killing.
You won’t find much in the way of character development. Aatami doesn’t say a whole lot. Almost everything we learn about the man comes from watching what he does. This allows us to surmise that, in addition to being majorly pissed off, he’s determined, unafraid, bold, skilled at thinking on his feet, and extremely adept at devising an offense utilizing whatever is at hand. The guy loves his dog, too. For the movie’s purposes, we need not know anything more about Aatami.
Absence of plot and character development is a negative in most cases. In the case of Sisu, it’s an intentional choice, and therefore kind of a positive. Writer/director Jalmari Helander is interested in creating a short, punchy explosion of violence and mayhem. “Sisu” is an untranslatable Finnish word that connotes bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. This is the theme of the movie, and the stripped-down nature is designed to force viewers to hone in on it.
We don’t need to be told Nazis are evil. That knowledge comes with us to the theater. Pleasure is derived from watching this single man eliminate so many of those repulsive figures. Sisu stages one over-the-top action sequence after another in which German scumbags die in the worst imaginable ways. To give just one example, Aatami finds himself trapped in the middle of a minefield. Most people would think about how to escape without getting blown up. He picks up the mines and throws them at the Nazis, hitting one square in the head. You can imagine what happens when someone gets nailed with a landmine that way.
Each scene is a little bigger, a little crazier than the one before. This is not a realistic movie. Its violence is played in a manner that borrows a structure from the classic silent film comedies of people like Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. A complication is presented, then built upon layer by layer until reaching the wildest height possible. At times, you even laugh at the gore because of the streak of dark humor that runs through the center of it. Not that the two have much else in common, but the approach reminded me of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, with acts of brutality staged in slapstick style.
Running a tight 91 minutes, Sisu offers a rush of fast-paced, anti-Nazi brutality. The movie’s energy sweeps you up, keeping you hooked right through the absolutely bananas finale. I’m not sure I’ll remember much about it a year from now. For an hour and a half, though, it sure gave me a great time.
out of four
Sisu is rated R for strong bloody violence, gore, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.